Evaluation of the Effect of Diagnostic Molecular Testing on the Surgical Decision-Making Process for Patients With Thyroid Nodules

JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2016 Jul 1;142(7):676-82. doi: 10.1001/jamaoto.2016.0850.


Importance: Diagnostic molecular testing is used in the workup of thyroid nodules. While these tests appear to be promising in more definitively assigning a risk of malignancy, their effect on surgical decision making has yet to be demonstrated.

Objective: To investigate the effect of diagnostic molecular profiling of thyroid nodules on the surgical decision-making process.

Design, setting, and participants: A surgical management algorithm was developed and published after peer review that incorporated individual Bethesda System for Reporting Thyroid Cytopathology classifications with clinical, laboratory, and radiological results. This algorithm was created to formalize the decision-making process selected herein in managing patients with thyroid nodules. Between April 1, 2014, and March 31, 2015, a prospective study of patients who had undergone diagnostic molecular testing of a thyroid nodule before being seen for surgical consultation was performed. The recommended management undertaken by the surgeon was then prospectively compared with the corresponding one in the algorithm. Patients with thyroid nodules who did not undergo molecular testing and were seen for surgical consultation during the same period served as a control group.

Main outcomes and measures: All pertinent treatment options were presented to each patient, and any deviation from the algorithm was recorded prospectively. To evaluate the appropriateness of any change (deviation) in management, the surgical histopathology diagnosis was correlated with the surgery performed.

Results: The study cohort comprised 140 patients who underwent molecular testing. Their mean (SD) age was 50.3 (14.6) years, and 75.0% (105 of 140) were female. Over a 1-year period, 20.3% (140 of 688) had undergone diagnostic molecular testing before surgical consultation, and 79.7% (548 of 688) had not undergone molecular testing. The surgical management deviated from the treatment algorithm in 12.9% (18 of 140) with molecular testing and in 10.2% (56 of 548) without molecular testing (P = .37). In the group with molecular testing, the surgical management plan of only 7.9% (11 of 140) was altered as a result of the molecular test. All but 1 of those patients were found to be overtreated relative to the surgical histopathology analysis.

Conclusions and relevance: Molecular testing did not significantly affect the surgical decision-making process in this study. Among patients whose treatment was altered based on these markers, there was evidence of overtreatment.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Algorithms*
  • Biopsy, Fine-Needle
  • Child
  • Clinical Decision-Making*
  • DNA Mutational Analysis
  • Decision Support Techniques*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mobile Applications
  • Prospective Studies
  • Thyroid Nodule / genetics
  • Thyroid Nodule / pathology
  • Thyroid Nodule / surgery*
  • Thyroidectomy
  • Young Adult