Position paper from the Japan Thyroid Association task force on the management of low-risk papillary thyroid microcarcinoma (T1aN0M0) in adults

Endocr J. 2021 Jul 28;68(7):763-780. doi: 10.1507/endocrj.EJ20-0692. Epub 2021 Mar 23.


The incidence of thyroid carcinoma has been increasing worldwide. This is interpreted as an increase in the incidental detection of papillary thyroid microcarcinomas (PTMCs). However, mortality has not changed, suggesting overdiagnosis and overtreatment. Prospective clinical trials of active surveillance for low-risk PTMC (T1aN0M0) have been conducted in two Japanese institutions since the 1990s. Based on the favorable outcomes of these trials, active surveillance has been gradually adopted worldwide. A task force on the management of PTMC in adults organized by the Japan Thyroid Association therefore conducted a systematic review and has produced the present position paper based on the scientific evidence concerning active surveillance. This paper indicates evidence for the increased incidence of PTMC, favorable surgical outcomes for low-risk PTMC, recommended criteria for diagnosis using fine needle aspiration cytology, and evaluation of lymph node metastasis (LNM), extrathyroidal extension (ETE) and distant metastasis. Active surveillance has also been reported with a low incidence of disease progression and no subsequent recurrence or adverse events on survival if conversion surgery was performed at a slightly advanced stage. Active surveillance is a safe and valid strategy for PTMC, because it might preserve physical quality of life and reduce 10-year medical costs. However, some points should be noted when performing active surveillance. Immediate surgery is needed for PTMC showing high-risk features, such as clinical LNM, ETE or distant metastasis. Active surveillance should be performed under an appropriate medical team and should be continued for life.

Keywords: Active surveillance; Japan Thyroid Association; Papillary thyroid microcarcinoma; Position paper.

Publication types

  • Practice Guideline

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Humans
  • Japan
  • Thyroid Cancer, Papillary / pathology
  • Thyroid Cancer, Papillary / surgery
  • Thyroid Cancer, Papillary / therapy*
  • Thyroid Gland / pathology*
  • Thyroid Gland / surgery
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / pathology
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / surgery
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Watchful Waiting