Active Surveillance for Papillary Thyroid Microcarcinoma in a Population with Restrictive Diagnostic Workup Strategies

Ivona Loncar, Sam P. J. van Dijk, Madelon J. H. Metman, Jia Feng Lin, Schelto Kruijff, Robin P. Peeters, Anton F. Engelsman, Tessa M. van Ginhoven*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
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Background: The worldwide incidence of papillary thyroid carcinoma (PTC) has increased. Efforts to reduce overtreatment follow two approaches: limiting diagnostic workup of low-risk thyroid nodules and pursuing active surveillance (AS) after diagnosis of microscopic PTC (mPTC). However, most studies on AS have been performed in countries with a relatively high proportion of overdiagnosis and thus incidental mPTC. The role of AS in a population with a restrictive diagnostic workup protocol for imaging and fine-needle aspiration remains unknown. Therefore, the aim of this study was to describe the proportion and characteristics of patients with mPTC in the Netherlands and to describe the potential candidates for AS in a situation with restrictive diagnostic protocols since 2007.

Methods: All operated patients with an mPTC in the Netherlands between 2005 and 2015 were identified from the Netherlands Cancer Registry database. Three groups were defined: (Group 1) mPTC with preoperative distant or lymph node metastases, (Group 2) mPTC in pathology report after thyroid surgery for another indication, and (Group 3) patients with a preoperative high suspicious thyroid nodule or proven mPTC (Bethesda 5 or 6). Only patients in Group 3 were considered potential candidates for AS.

Results: A total of 1018 mPTC patients were identified. Group 1 consisted of 152 patients with preoperatively discovered metastases. Group 2 consisted of 667 patients, of whom 16 (2.4%) had lymph node metastases. There were 199 patients in Group 3, of whom 27 (13.6%) had lymph node metastases. After initial treatment in Group 3, 3.5% (7/199) of the patients had recurrence.

Conclusions: Restrictive diagnostic workup strategies of patients with small thyroid nodules lead to limited patients eligible for AS and a higher incidence of lymph node metastases. We believe that there is limited additive value for AS in countries with restrictive diagnostic workup guidelines such as in the Netherlands. However, if an mPTC is encountered, AS can be offered on an individual basis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1219-1225
Number of pages7
Issue number08
Early online date23-Feb-2021
Publication statusPublished - 3-Aug-2021


  • active surveillance
  • papillary microcarcinoma
  • thyroid


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