Background: Prospective trials of active surveillance for asymptomatic papillary microcarcinoma (T1aN0M0) since the 1990s have shown progression rates of only 5-10%. Late rescue surgery after progression had no deleterious effects on mortality and morbidity. The 2015 American Thyroid Association guidelines approved active surveillance for very low-risk papillary thyroid carcinoma (PTC) as an alternative method to immediate surgery. However, there is no study that evaluates long-term active surveillance for T1b tumors.
Methods: A prospective trial of active surveillance with 360 very low-risk PTC (T1aN0M0) patients has been conducted since 1995. Of the 392 T1bN0M0 patients, 61 selected active surveillance over surgery and eventually participated in this trial, while the remaining 331 patients underwent surgery. To find an appropriate management strategy for patients with T1bN0M0 PTC, the outcomes of active surveillance for T1bN0M0 to T1aN0M0 PTC were investigated and compared, and the outcomes of surgery for T1bN0M0 PTC were studied.
Results: After a mean of 7.4 years of active surveillance, 29 (8%) T1aN0M0 tumors and four (7%) T1bN0M0 tumors had increased in size (p = 0.69). Development of lymph node metastasis was seen in three (0.8%) patients and two (3%) patients, respectively (p = 0.10). No significant difference in progression rate was seen between groups. Among T1bN0M0 tumors, weak calcification and rich vascularity were risk factors for tumor-size increase, and younger age was a predictor for the development of lymph node metastasis. Mean initial tumor size was significantly greater in T1bN0M0 patients who underwent immediate surgery (14.5 ± 2.8 mm) than it was in patients who chose observation (11.7 ± 1.1 mm; p < 0.0001). No postoperative recurrence was seen in patients with tumor <15 mm in diameter.
Conclusions: Active surveillance is an option for selected patients with T1bN0M0 PTC.
Keywords: active surveillance; microcarcinoma; observation; overtreatment; thyroid cancer.