Features and Outcome of Autonomous Thyroid Nodules in Children: 31 Consecutive Patients Seen at a Single Center

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Abstract

Context:

Most thyroid nodules are benign and their accurate identification can avoid unnecessary procedures. In adult patients, documentation of nodule autonomy is accepted as reassurance of benign histology and as justification to forgo biopsy or thyroidectomy. In contrast, the negative predictive value of nodule autonomy in children is uncertain. Some recent publications recommend surgical resection as initial management, but few address the degree of TSH suppression or the specific scintigraphic criteria used to diagnose autonomy.

Objective:

The objective of the study was to study the presenting features and cancer risk of children with autonomous nodules.

Design and Setting:

Medical records of all 31 children diagnosed with autonomous nodules at our center from 2003 to 2014 were retrospectively reviewed.

Patients and Results:

All children met full diagnostic criteria for autonomous nodules, defined by both autonomous 123I uptake into the nodule and the suppression of uptake in the normal thyroid parenchyma on scintigraphy performed during hypothyrotropinemia. The median age of presentation was 15 years (range 3–18 y) with a female to male ratio of 15:1. Fifty-eight percent of patients had solitary nodules and 42% had multiple nodules. The median size of each patient's largest autonomous nodule was 39 mm (range 18–67 mm). Most of the children in this series (68%) had diagnostic biopsies and/or operative pathology of their largest autonomous nodule, which showed benign cytology or histology in all cases.

Conclusions:

In this pediatric series, the cancer rate observed in biopsied or resected autonomous nodules was 0%. Whereas larger studies are needed to confirm our findings, these results agree with earlier reports suggesting that thyroid cancer is rare in rigorously defined autonomous nodules and support that conservative management may be offered to selected children who meet strict diagnostic criteria for autonomous nodules, deferring definitive therapies until adulthood when the risks of thyroidectomy and 131I ablation are lower.

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