A clinical and pathological study was undertaken to define the prevalence, clinical presentation and outcome of thyroid carcinoma in children and adolescents. Clinical records from 48 patients under 20 years of age at diagnosis, out of 372 patients with thyroid cancer examined between 1980 and 1994, were retrospectively reviewed. Female/male ratio was 3.8/1. None had a previous positive history of head and neck irradiation. Patients underwent near-total (44 patients) or partial (4 patients) thyroidectomy followed by 131I ablation of residual thyroid tissue. The mean follow up period was 58.4 months, ranging between 2 and 190 months. Clinically a thyroid mass was present in 41 patients, 28 of whom also showed neck lymph node involvement. Node metastases were present in 50% of the patients and lung metastases in 4.2%. Histological type was papillary in 41, follicular in 6, and medullary in 1 case. Surgical complications were observed in 19 patients (40%). In 3 patients papillary thyroid cancer was associated with chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis. All patients were treated with 1-thyroxine suppressive therapy. Recurrences of cancer after surgical and radio-iodine treatment was observed only in one patient 8 months after surgery.
Conclusion: Our experience demonstrates that thyroid carcinoma in childhood cannot be considered a rare occurrence, since it represents about 13% of all thyroid cancers, and is frequently associated with lymph node but rarely with distant metastases. Nevertheless, the prognosis of thyroid carcinoma in childhood is fairly good.