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Follicular Thyroid Carcinoma Treatment & Management

  • Author: Luigi Santacroce, MD; Chief Editor: Jules E Harris, MD, FACP, FRCPC  more...
 
Updated: Jul 15, 2016
 

Approach Considerations

The initial treatment for cancer of the thyroid is surgical. The exact nature of the surgical procedure to be performed depends for the most part on the extent of the local disease. A consensus approach might be to perform a total thyroidectomy if the primary tumor is larger than 1 cm in diameter or if there is extrathyroidal involvement or distant metastases. Clinically evident lymphadenopathy should be removed with a neck dissection. If the primary tumor is less than 1 cm in diameter, a unilateral lobectomy might be considered.

Current National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) guidelines recommend lobectomy plus isthmusectomy as the initial surgery for patients with follicular neoplasms, with prompt completion of thyroidectomy if invasive follicular thyroid carcinoma (FTC) is found on the final histologic section. Therapeutic neck dissection of involved compartments is recommended for clinically apparent/biopsy-proven disease.[1]

The NCCN recommends total thyroidectomy as the initial procedure only if invasive cancer or metastatic disease is apparent at the time or surgery, or if the patient wishes to avoid a second, completion thyroidectomy should the pathologic review reveal cancer.[1]

About 4-6 weeks after surgical thyroid removal, patients must have radioiodine to detect and destroy any metastasis and any residual tissue in the thyroid. Administer therapy until no further radioiodine uptake is noted.

Patients take thyroid replacement therapy (ie, L-thyroxine [L-T4]) for life. This entails taking 2.5-3.5 mcg/kg of L-T4 every day. The thyroxine is given in the dose necessary to inhibit thyrotropin to a value of 0.1-0.5 mU/L. This treatment plan is generally successful. However, a 10-year recurrence rate of 20-30% may be seen in older patients, in patients with primary tumors greater than 4 cm in diameter, and in patients where tumor has spread beyond the thyroid boundaries and where lymph node involvement is widespread. Once metastatic thyroid cancer becomes resistant to radioiodine, the 10-year survival is less than 15%.

A number of indications for external beam radiation therapy (EBRT) apply to the management of FTC.

If all gross disease cannot be resected, or if residual disease is not avid for radioactive iodine, EBRT is often employed for locally advanced disease.

Similarly, radiation therapy is indicated for unresectable disease extending into adjacent structures, such as the trachea, esophagus, great vessels, mediastinum, and/or connective tissue. In this situation, radiation therapy doses of 6000-6500 cGy are typically used. Following radiation therapy for unresectable disease, the patient should undergo radioactive iodine (I-131) scanning. If uptake is detected, a dose of I-131 should be administered.

EBRT increases the local-regional control of the residual disease for patients with locally advanced differentiated thyroid carcinoma.[19] EBRT also may be used after resection of recurrent FTC that is no longer avid for radioactive iodine.

In the postoperative setting, radiation therapy doses of 5000-6000 cGy are commonly delivered to the tumor bed to reduce the risk of local-regional recurrence.

Careful treatment planning (typically with multiple radiation therapy fields) should be employed to minimize the risks of radiation therapy complications.

Finally, a palliative course of radiation therapy is useful to relieve pain from bone metastases.

Chemotherapy with cisplatin or doxorubicin has limited efficacy, producing occasional objective responses (generally for short durations). Because of the high toxicity of cisplatin and doxorubicin, chemotherapy may be considered in symptomatic patients with recurrent or progressive disease. It could improve quality of life in patients with bone metastases. No standard protocol exists for chemotherapy of metastatic FTC.

FTC is a highly vascular lesion. In patients with bone metastases who experience severe pain that does not respond to palliative radiation, arterial embolization of the tumor might be considered.

The possible involvement of angiogenesis in the progression of metastatic thyroid carcinoma has suggested a role for the multikinase inhibitor sunitinib, which may inhibit angiogenesis. A phase II trial in 23 patients with advanced differentiated thyroid cancer who had received at least one course of radioactive iodine treatment demonstrated that sunitinib exhibits significant anti-tumor activity. Of the 23 patients, six (26%) achieved a partial response and 13 (57%) had stable disease.[20]

See Thyroid Cancer Treatment Protocols for summarized information.

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Surgical Care

Surgery is the definitive management of thyroid cancer, and various types of operations may be performed.

Lobectomy with isthmectomy

This represents the minimal operation for a potentially malignant thyroid nodule.

A study of 889 thyroid cancer patients who underwent either total thyroidectomy or thyroid lobectomy showed similarly high rates of survival among both groups.[21] Patients younger than 40 years who have FTC nodules that are less than 1 cm in size, well defined, minimally invasive, and isolated may be treated with hemithyroidectomy and isthmectomy.

Subtotal thyroidectomy (near-total thyroidectomy)

Subtotal thyroidectomy is preferable if it is feasible, since it carries a lower incidence of complications (eg, hypoparathyroidism, superior and/or recurrent laryngeal nerve injury).

Moreover, total thyroidectomy does not improve the long-term prognosis.

Total thyroidectomy (removal of all thyroid tissue, with preservation of the contralateral parathyroid glands)

Approximately 10% of patients who have had total thyroidectomy demonstrate cancer in the contralateral lobe. Therefore, residual thyroid tissue has the potential to dedifferentiate to anaplastic cancer.

Perform total thyroidectomy in patients who are older than 40 years with FTC and in any patient with bilateral disease; furthermore, recommend total thyroidectomy to anyone with a thyroid nodule and a history of irradiation.

Some studies show lower recurrence rates and increased survival rates in patients who have undergone total thyroidectomy. This surgical procedure also facilitates earlier detection and treatment of recurrent or metastatic carcinoma. This surgical option is mandatory in patients with FTC ascertained by postoperative histologic studies (ie, if a very well-differentiated tumor is discovered) after a one-side lobectomy, with or without isthmectomy.

When the primary tumor has spread outside the thyroid and involves adjacent vital organs, such as the larynx, trachea, or esophagus, preserve these organs at the first surgical approach. However, the surrounding soft tissues, including muscles and involved areas of the trachea and/or esophagus, may be sacrificed whenever they are involved directly in the differentiated thyroid carcinoma and their local resection is easily feasible. Surgical resection of one or more brain metastases may prolong survival from 4 to 22 months.

Minimally invasive techniques

During the last decade, a number of minimally invasive endoscopic approaches have been proposed for the treatment of thyroid carcinoma, but these techniques may be applied only to a small number of cases—those classified as 'low risk' carcinomas according to the AGES and AMES classifications.

Robotic-assisted thyroidectomy

A study by Lee et al found that the application of robot technology to endoscopic thyroidectomy may overcome the limitations of conventional surgery.[22]

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Consultations

Schedule elderly patients for cardiologic assessment because of the high risk of subclinical hypothyroidism episodes.

Consult an otolaryngologist, especially in patients with thyroid disease who have voice disturbances.

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Contributor Information and Disclosures
Author

Luigi Santacroce, MD Assistant Professor, Medical School, State University at Bari, Italy

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Coauthor(s)

Lodovico Balducci, MD Professor, Oncology Fellowship Director, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Adult Oncology, H Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute, University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine

Lodovico Balducci, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Association for Cancer Research, American College of Physicians, American Geriatrics Society, American Society of Hematology, New York Academy of Sciences, American Society of Clinical Oncology, Southern Society for Clinical Investigation, International Society for Experimental Hematology, American Federation for Clinical Research, American Society of Breast Disease

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Benjamin Movsas, MD 

Benjamin Movsas, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Radiology, American Radium Society, American Society for Radiation Oncology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Jules E Harris, MD, FACP, FRCPC Clinical Professor of Medicine, Section of Hematology/Oncology, University of Arizona College of Medicine, Arizona Cancer Center

Jules E Harris, MD, FACP, FRCPC is a member of the following medical societies: American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Society of Hematology, Central Society for Clinical and Translational Research, American Society of Clinical Oncology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Philip Schulman, MD Chief, Medical Oncology, Department of Medicine, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center

Philip Schulman, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Association for Cancer Research, American College of Physicians, American Society of Hematology, Medical Society of the State of New York

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Acknowledgements

Silvia Gagliardi, MD Consulting Staff, Department of Surgery, Medical Center Vita, Italy

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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Surgical specimen of a large goiter. Total thyroidectomy was performed because of the presence of a solid nodule in the right lobe (note the size of the thyroid lobe at left of the screen).
The right lobe of the thyroid was sectioned and reveals a large solid nodule with necrotic and hemorrhagic areas. Histologic diagnosis is follicular thyroid carcinoma.
Histologic pattern of a mildly differentiated follicular thyroid carcinoma (250 X). Image courtesy of Professor Pantaleo Bufo at University of Foggia, Italy.
Histologic pattern of a rare lymph node metastasis of follicular thyroid carcinoma (140 X). Image courtesy of Professor Pantaleo Bufo at University of Foggia, Italy.
Histologic pattern of a rare lymph node metastasis of follicular thyroid carcinoma (250 X). Image courtesy of Professor Pantaleo Bufo at University of Foggia, Italy.
 
 
 
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