Management of Medullary Thyroid Cancer: Patterns of Recurrence and Outcomes of Reoperative Surgery

Oncologist. 2023 Aug 26;oyad232. doi: 10.1093/oncolo/oyad232. Online ahead of print.


Background: There remains uncertainty regarding the optimal extent of initial surgery and management of recurrent disease in medullary thyroid cancer (MTC). We aim to describe the patterns of disease recurrence and outcomes of the reoperative surgery in a cohort of consecutively treated patients at a specialized tertiary referral center.

Patients and methods: A retrospective cohort study of 235 surgically treated patients with MTC at a tertiary referral center was performed using prospectively collected data.

Results: In the study period 1986-2022, 235 patients underwent surgery for MTC. Of these, 45 (19%) patients had reoperative surgery for cervical nodal recurrence at a median (range) 2.1 (0.3-16) years following the index procedure. After a median follow-up of 4 years, 38 (84%) patients remain free of structural cervical recurrence, although 15 (33%) underwent 2 or more reoperative procedures. No long-term complications occurred after reoperative surgery. Local cervical recurrence was independently predicted by pathologically involved nodal status (OR 5.10, P = .01) and failure to achieve biochemical cure (OR 5.0, P = .009). Local recurrence did not adversely affect overall survival and was not associated with distant recurrence (HR 0.93, P = .83). Overall survival was independently predicted by high pathological grade (HR 10.0, P = .002) and the presence of metastatic disease at presentation (HR 8.27, P = 0018).

Conclusion: Loco-regional recurrence in MTC does not impact overall survival, or the development of metastatic disease, demonstrating the safety of the staged approach to the clinically node-negative lateral neck. When recurrent disease is technically resectable, reoperative surgery can be undertaken with minimal morbidity in a specialized center and facilitates structural disease control.

Keywords: endocrine surgery; lymph node dissection; medullary thyroid cancer; recurrence; thyroid; thyroidectomy.