Thyroid cancer nodal metastases: biologic significance and therapeutic considerations

Surg Oncol Clin N Am. 1996 Jan;5(1):43-63.


Lymph node metastases at presentation are common in PTC and MTC (about one third of patients at presentation), but are rare in other types of thyroid malignancy, though HCC frequently recurs in lymph nodes. Nodal metastases can be detected by a variety of means, but high resolution ultrasonography may be the method of choice. Unlike other epithelial malignancies, in thyroid cancer neither prognostic significance nor optimal treatment of nodal metastasis are known with certainty. For PTC lymph node metastases at presentation do not seem to adversely affect survival, but do increase the risk of locoregional tumor recurrence. By contrast, in FTC nodal metastases at presentation may adversely affect cause-specific mortality, but because of their rarity definite conclusions are impossible. Except for the oxyphilic variant of FTC (HCC) nodal recurrence in FTC is rare. The most firm evidence of prognostic relevance for nodal metastases in thyroid malignancies exists in medullary thyroid cancer, where most studies suggest that survival and recurrence are both adversely affected by node-positive status at presentation. Primary treatment of nodal metastases is removal of macroscopically affected nodes at initial surgery, optionally supplemented with adjuvant radioiodine treatment in an attempt to reduce recurrence risk. The value, however, of postoperative radioiodine in preventing either nodal recurrence or cancer death in patients with papillary and follicular thyroid cancer remains controversial. Extensive lymph node dissection at presentation offers no advantage (and may cause increased morbidity) in papillary carcinoma, but may be useful in medullary thyroid carcinoma, where nodal metastases seem to increase the risk of cause-specific mortality. In all tumor types postoperative nodal recurrences should primarily be treated surgically.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Lymphatic Metastasis / pathology*
  • Prognosis
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / mortality
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / therapy