Routine Thyroglobulin, Neck Ultrasound and Physical Examination in the Routine Follow Up of Patients With Differentiated Thyroid cancer-Where Is the Evidence?

Endocrine. 2018 Oct;62(1):26-33. doi: 10.1007/s12020-018-1720-3. Epub 2018 Aug 20.


Purpose: Patients with differentiated thyroid cancer (DTC) typically have a favourable prognosis and recurrence as late as 45 years after diagnosis has been reported. International clinical guidelines for monitoring recommend routine thyroglobulin, ultrasound and physical examination for the detection of recurrence. The aim of this review was to systematically review whether routine monitoring using thyroglobulin (Tg), neck ultrasound and physical examination for recurrence in differentiated thyroid cancer patients is effective in improving patient survival and/or quality of life.

Methods: Primary studies were retrieved via a comprehensive search of three electronic bibliographic databases (PubMed, Web of Science Core Collection and Cochrane Library) without time restriction. Eligible studies must have reported on disease-free patients with DTC subject to long-term routine surveillance. The primary and secondary outcomes of interest were overall survival (or other survival parameters) and quality of life, respectively.

Results: Literature searches yielded 5529 citations, which were screened by two reviewers. 241 full texts were retrieved. No randomised controlled trials or two-arm cohort studies on the effectiveness of any of the three specified interventions were identified. However, three 'single-arm' studies reporting long-term follow-up outcomes in patients undergoing regular surveillance were identified and appraised.

Conclusions: This review highlights a lack of empirical evidence to support current use of routine surveillance in DTC. Although early detection is possible, routine surveillance may lead to unnecessary intervention.

Keywords: Palpation; Recurrence; Surveillance; Thyroglobulin; Thyroid cancer; Ultrasonography.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Humans
  • Neck / diagnostic imaging*
  • Physical Examination*
  • Thyroglobulin / blood*
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / blood
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging
  • Ultrasonography*


  • Thyroglobulin