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Radiofrequency ablation an option for thyroid microcarcinoma


Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) shows efficacy as a potential noninvasive option for the treatment of low-risk microcarcinomas in papillary thyroid cancer (PTC) when measures beyond active surveillance are warranted, results from a new review show.

“The results in the current study suggest that RFA could function as a useful alternative treatment strategy in which patients are treated minimally invasively with curative intentions,” reported the authors of the meta-analysis published online in JAMA Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery.

Commenting on the research, Joanna Klubo-Gwiezdzinska, MD, PhD, said the work offers useful evidence on the potential role for RFA in low-risk micro-PTC – with some notable caveats.

“I agree that RFA might be a good option for patients unwilling or unable to accept active surveillance and for patients who are at high surgical risk because of comorbid conditions,” she told this news organization.

However, “RFA for patients with an evidence of nodule growth requires more data to be analyzed and a longer follow-up period in lieu of the fact that 21% of nodules subjected to RFA did not disappear, based on the data the authors provide,” noted Dr. Klubo-Gwiezdzinska, who is acting chief of thyroid tumors and functional thyroid disorders at the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, in Bethesda, Md.

When active surveillance isn’t enough

Microcarcinoma PTC, defined as measuring 10 mm or less, is highly common, making up approximately half of papillary thyroid cancers diagnosed in some countries, and the outcomes of those cancers are excellent, with disease-specific survival of more than 99% after 10 years.

Guidelines in the United States and Europe typically recommend surgery (lobectomy) as a standard treatment for thyroid cancer, however, with many of the low-risk microcarcinomas remaining indolent and never progressing to the point of requiring treatment over a person’s lifetime, some also recommend considering active surveillance, or watchful waiting, for those lower-risk cancers.

In situations such as evidence of tumor growth during active surveillance, some countries, particularly Asian countries, also suggest considering thermal ablation techniques, including RFA, as an alternative to surgery, with key benefits including lower costs and potentially a lower risk of complications, compared with surgical lobectomy.

Otherwise, RFA is more typically reserved for benign nodules, recurrent PTC, or inoperable disease.

New meta-analysis

To investigate reported outcomes with RFA specifically in the treatment of microcarcinoma PTC, the authors, led by Sam P.J. van Dijk, BSc, of University Medical Center Rotterdam (the Netherlands), identified 15 studies published after 2016 involving 1,770 adult patients and 1,822 tumors who received RFA for the treatment of low-risk PTC microcarcinomas, defined as measuring 10 mm or less.

The studies were conducted in China and South Korea, where RFA is more commonly used in low-risk microcarcinoma PTC.

Patients were 77.9% women and a mean age of 45.4 years. The analysis excluded patients with pre-ablation lymph node or distant metastases, recurrence of disease, or extrathyroidal extension.

Of the 1,822 tumors treated with RFA, 49 required an additional RFA treatment and 1 tumor had two additional treatments.

With a mean follow-up of 33 months (range, 6-131 months), the primary outcome of the pooled rate of complete disappearance of microcarcinoma PTC on ultrasonography was 79%.

The overall rate of tumor progression was 1.5% (26 patients), and local residual microcarcinoma PTC occurred in 0.4% (7 tumors).

New microcarcinoma PTC occurred in 0.9% (15) of patients; 0.2% (4) developed lymph node metastases during follow-up, and no distant metastases were observed.

Minor complications occurred in 45 patients, and there were three major complications, including two voice changes that lasted more than 2 months and one cardiac arrhythmia.

“This study suggests that radiofrequency ablation is a safe and efficient method to treat selected low-risk papillary microcarcinoma of the thyroid,” the researchers said.


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