Incidental multifocal papillary microcarcinomas of the thyroid: Is subtotal thyroidectomy combined with radioiodine ablation enough?

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The extent of thyroid resection and the necessity of lymph node dissection has become an issue of controversy in patients with incidental multifocal papillary microcarcinoma.


Between 1993 and 2001 a total of 4120 patients underwent surgery for thyroid diseases: 142 patients showed papillary thyroid cancer of ≤1 cm, multifocal microcarcinomas were found in 22 patients (15.5%). Twenty patients (17 women, three men, aged 26–71 years) met the inclusion criterion of having pre- and intraoperatively no indication of malignancy (incidentaloma). A limited surgical procedure ranging from bilateral subtotal (n=15), ipsilateral total, contralateral subtotal (n=4) to bilateral total (n=1) thyroidectomy without lymph node dissection was performed. The mean volume of thyroid remnants was 4.3 ml.


In 16/20 (80%) patients, the thyroid remnant was ablated by the first dose of 131I, using 3.7 GBq 131I in 15 patients and 1.85 GBq 131I in one patient. Three patients received a second, and one patient a third radioiodine ablation. All 20 patients remained free from relapse or metastasis, documented by negative 131I whole-body scintigraphy and unmeasurable thyroglobulin levels after thyroid hormone with drawal in hypothyroidism. One patient died 7 years after the diagnosis of thyroid cancer from primary lung cancer. Median follow-up was 65 months (range, 24–120 months).


Subtotal thyroidectomy followed by radioiodine therapy without completion thyroidectomy and lymphadenectomy is a possible option in incidental multifocal microcarcinomas.

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