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Original Article
June 2006

The Importance of Central Compartment Elective Lymph Node Excision in the Staging and Treatment of Papillary Thyroid Cancer

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Division of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, School of Medicine, State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2006;132(6):650-654. doi:10.1001/archotol.132.6.650

Objective  To determine the incidence of nodal involvement and assess the role of elective lymph node (LN) exploration and/or dissection in staging of tumors and treatment of patients with papillary thyroid cancer.

Design  Retrospective medical chart review.

Setting  Academic tertiary care medical center.

Patients  One hundred patients diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer by fine-needle aspiration or intraoperative frozen section who underwent total thyroidectomy with central compartment cervical LN exploration.

Main Outcome Measure  Incidence of positive LNs in patients 45 years or older (group A) vs those younger than 45 years (group B).

Results  Sixteen (39%) of 41 patients in group A had positive LN status following LN exploration and/or dissection. Seventeen (29%) of 59 patients in group B were found to have positive LNs. According to the American Joint Committee on Cancer staging system, the tumors of 11 patients (28%) in group A would be restaged from stage I/II to stage III after establishment of the positive pathologic nodal status.

Conclusions  Lymph node metastasis was present in the central compartment in 39% of patients in group A. Presence of LN metastasis in older patients has been reported to increase the risk of recurrence of papillary thyroid carcinoma. Furthermore, recurrence and reoperation in the central compartment is associated with a higher risk of vocal cord paralysis. In patients in group A diagnosed with papillary thyroid carcinoma, routine central compartment LN exploration and/or dissection at the time of thyroidectomy is advocated, which allows more accurate staging of tumors and appropriate treatment. Elective excision of central compartment LNs in this older age group may improve locoregional control and possibly reduce morbidity in the long run.