An audit of the management of thyroid cancer in a district general hospital

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Abstract

OBJECTIVE

Thyroid cancer is the commonest endocrine malignancy yet it appeared to present infrequently to the endocrinologists at this large District General Hospital. The management of well-differentiated thyroid cancer remains controversial with a wide variation in clinical practice. The aim of this survey was to determine the characteristics of the patients diagnosed with thyroid cancer and whether any deficiencies existed in the management of subjects diagnosed with thyroid cancer over a five-year period using standards of care based upon long-term outcome data and recently published USA guidelines.

DESIGN AND PATIENTS

Retrospective case-note survey of all patients newly registered with thyroid cancer from 1990 to 1994 in North Staffordshire (estimated total population 450 000).

RESULTS

The annual incidence of all thyroid cancer was two per 100 000 of which well-differentiated tumours comprised 70%. Medical records were obtained in 48 new cases (91% of total) identified. Fifteen subjects who presented as surgical emergencies received only palliative treatment and had a poor outcome. Two patients presented with metastatic medullary thyroid carcinoma (3% of total). Thirty-one patients (97% of whom presented with a thyroid nodule) were referred electively to either surgical (n = 22), ENT (n = 2) or endocrinology (n = 7) outpatients with well-differentiated papillary (n = 17) and follicular (n = 14) tumours. Thirteen patients (42%) had fine-needle aspiration cytology performed preoperatively. Of the 22 tumours (71%) greater than 1.5 cm, five (27%) had a total thyroidectomy and two (9%) also had radioiodine ablation. There was inadequate serum thyrotrophin suppression postoperatively in 12 patients (39%) and only five (16%) were being monitored for recurrence with serum thyroglobulin measurements.

CONCLUSIONS

Deficiencies in the optimum management of small, well-differentiated thyroid cancers were identified. Improved communication between specialties has led to the development of an agreed management protocol to increase the quality of care offered to patients with thyroid cancer and for auditing the coordinated service in the future.

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