Hobnail variant of papillary thyroid carcinoma: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Endocrine. 2021 Apr;72(1):27-39. doi: 10.1007/s12020-020-02505-z. Epub 2020 Oct 6.


Objective: The hobnail variant of papillary thyroid carcinoma (HVPTC) has emerged as a rare and aggressive variant of papillary thyroid carcinoma (PTC). We aim to determine the prevalence and clinicopathologic factors of HVPTC.

Methods: A systematic review of the literature for studies examining HVPTC was performed. Four databases (PubMed, Scopus, OVID, Cochrane library) were queried from inception of databases through March 20th, 2020.

Results: Sixteen studies with 124 cases of HVPTC were included. The mean age for all patients was 52.3 years. HVPTC had a prevalence of 1.08% out of all PTC cases, with a mean tumor size of 3.1 cm. In 62% and 50% of cases, lymphovascular invasion and extrathyroidal extension were present, respectively. Follow-up data, with a mean of 49.9 months, revealed a 66% rate of lymph node metastasis and 23% rate of distant metastasis. Tumors with ≥30% hobnail morphology had a 2.6-fold increased odds of developing lymph node metastasis compared with <30% hobnail morphology, however did not differ in rates of distant metastasis. Patients ≥55 years old had a 4.5-fold increased odds of distant metastasis and a 4.7-fold increased odds of lymphovascular invasion over patients <55.

Conclusions: High rates of locoregional and distant disease as well as high-risk pathological factors reveal the aggressive nature of HVPTC. Diagnostic criteria regarding percentage of hobnail morphology requires further refinement. Further studies are warranted in order to better understand how recognition of this high-risk variant impacts clinical treatment.

Keywords: Hobnail variant papillary thyroid cancer; Papillary thyroid cancer; Systematic review; Thyroid.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Papillary* / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Lymphatic Metastasis
  • Middle Aged
  • Thyroid Cancer, Papillary / epidemiology
  • Thyroid Neoplasms* / epidemiology