A Prospective Mixed-Methods Study of Decision-Making on Surgery or Active Surveillance for Low-Risk Papillary Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid. 2020 Jul;30(7):999-1007. doi: 10.1089/thy.2019.0592. Epub 2020 Apr 8.


Background: Active surveillance (AS) of small, low-risk papillary thyroid cancers (PTCs) is increasingly being considered. There is limited understanding of why individuals with low-risk PTC may choose AS over traditional surgical management. Methods: We present a mixed-methods analysis of a prospective observational real-life decision-making study regarding the choice of thyroidectomy or AS for management of localized, low-risk PTCs <2 cm in maximum diameter (NCT03271892). Patients were provided standardized medical information and were interviewed after making their decision (which dictated disease management). We evaluated patients' levels of decision-self efficacy (confidence in medical decision-making ability) at the time information was presented and their level of decision satisfaction after finalizing their decision (using standardized questionnaires). We asked patients to explain the reason for their choice and qualitatively analyzed the results. Results: We enrolled 74 women and 26 men of mean age 52.4 years, with a mean PTC size of 11.0 mm (interquartile range 9.0, 14.0 mm). Seventy-one patients (71.0% [95% confidence interval 60.9-79.4%]) chose AS over surgery. Ninety-four percent (94/100) of participants independently made their own disease management choice; the rest shared the decision with their physician. Participants had a high baseline level of decision self-efficacy (mean 94.3, standard deviation 9.6 on a 100-point scale). Almost all (98%, 98/100) participants reported high decision satisfaction. Factors reported by patients as influencing their decision included the following: perceived risk of thyroidectomy or the cancer, family considerations, treatment timing in the context of life circumstances, and trust in health care providers. Conclusions: In this Canadian study, ∼7 out of 10 patients with small, low-risk PTC, who were offered the choice of AS or surgery, chose AS. Personal perceptions about cancer or thyroidectomy, contextual factors, family considerations, and trust in health care providers strongly influenced patients' disease management choices.

Keywords: active surveillance; medical decision-making; mixed methods; prospective observational study; thyroidectomy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Clinical Decision-Making*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Participation
  • Prospective Studies
  • Self Efficacy
  • Thyroid Cancer, Papillary / surgery
  • Thyroid Cancer, Papillary / therapy*
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / surgery
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Thyroidectomy / methods*
  • Watchful Waiting*