Importance: Active surveillance is sometimes considered as a disease management option for individuals with small, low-risk papillary thyroid carcinoma.
Objective: To assess whether patient age is associated with progression of low-risk papillary thyroid carcinoma (tumor growth or incident metastatic disease) in adults under active surveillance.
Evidence review: Eight electronic databases (MEDLINE, Embase, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Emcare, PsycINFO, Web of Science, and ClincalTrials.gov) were searched from inception to March 2019, supplemented with a hand search. Two investigators independently screened citations, reviewed full-text articles, and abstracted data. Additional data were sought from authors. Random-effects meta-analyses were performed using incidence data (statistically adjusted for confounders and crude rates).
Findings: A total of 1658 unique citations were screened, and 62 full-text articles were reviewed, including 5 studies. Three studies included exclusively microcarcinomas and 2 included tumors up to 2 cm in maximal diameter. The mean age of participants was 51.0 to 55.2 years in 4 studies reporting this value. The mean or median follow-up was 5 years or more in 3 studies and approximately 2 years in 2 studies. The pooled risk ratio for tumor growth of 3 mm or more in maximal diameter in individuals aged 40 to 50 years compared with younger individuals was 0.51 when adjusted for confounders (95% CI, 0.29-0.89; 1619 patients, 2 studies), and the unadjusted risk ratio of this outcome for individuals 40 years or older was 0.55 (95% CI, 0.36-0.82; 2097 patients, 4 studies). In adults aged 40 to 45 years, the unadjusted risk ratio for any tumor volume increase compared with younger individuals was 0.65 (95% CI, 0.51-0.83; 1232 patients, 4 studies). The pooled risk ratio for incident nodal metastases in individuals 40 years or older was 0.22 (95% CI, 0.10-0.47; 1806 patients, 3 studies); however, in a secondary analysis, the risk difference was not significantly different. There was no statistically significant heterogeneity in any of the meta-analyses. There were no thyroid cancer-related deaths nor incident distant metastases.
Conclusions and relevance: This study suggests that older age may be associated with a reduced risk of primary papillary thyroid carcinoma tumor growth under active surveillance. Incident metastatic disease is uncommon during active surveillance.