Incidental findings of thyroid tissue in cervical lymph nodes: old controversy not yet resolved?

Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngol. 2016 Oct;273(10):2867-75. doi: 10.1007/s00405-015-3786-3. Epub 2015 Oct 12.


The clinical significance of papillary or follicular thyroid tissue incidentally discovered in cervical lymph nodes during pathological assessment of neck dissections for non-thyroid cancers of the upper aero-digestive tract is critically reviewed. Special emphasis is given to controversies over normal-looking, nodal, thyroid follicles. Arguments for and against the benign nature of these follicles are considered together with processes that could be involved in their formation. The admittedly limited evidence suggests that benign, thyroid follicular inclusions rarely occur in cervical lymph nodes. Histological criteria that could be helpful in recognizing the inclusions, which include assessing their extent in conjunction with the size of the node, are discussed. Finally, an algorithm based on collaboration between specialists, correlating histological findings with imaging and loco-regional control of the upper aero-digestive tract cancer, is suggested for the management of patients with incidentally discovered, nodal thyroid tissue.

Keywords: Heterotopia; Lymph nodes; Metastasis; Neck dissection; Pathology; Thyroid.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Algorithms
  • Carcinoma, Papillary / secondary
  • Choristoma / pathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidental Findings*
  • Lymph Node Excision
  • Lymph Nodes / pathology*
  • Lymphadenopathy / pathology*
  • Lymphatic Metastasis
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neck
  • Neck Dissection
  • Thyroid Gland*
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / pathology
  • Thyroidectomy