Importance of surgeon-performed ultrasound in the preoperative nodal assessment of patients with potential thyroid malignancy

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Introduction.A comprehensive cervical ultrasound evaluation is essential in the operative planning of patients with thyroid disease. Reliance on radiographic reports alone may result in incomplete operative management as pathologic lymph nodes are often not palpable and evaluation of the lateral neck is not routine. This study examined the role of surgeon-performed ultrasound in the evaluation of patients who underwent lateral neck dissection for thyroid cancer.Methods.We conducted a retrospective review of a prospectively maintained database of patients who underwent therapeutic lymph node dissection for thyroid cancer between 2001 and 2016 at our tertiary referral center. All patients had surgeon-performed ultrasound preoperatively by 1 of 7 endocrine surgeons. These findings were compared with prereferral imaging studies to determine the value of surgeon-performed ultrasound to their overall treatment.Results.Of 92 patients who underwent thyroidectomy with lateral neck dissection, 97% had prereferral imaging of the neck (ultrasonography, computed tomography, positron emission tomography). Of these patients, nodal disease was suggested by computed tomography scanning in 70.8% and by ultrasonography in 54%. Of all patients, 45% had positive lateral neck nodes detected only on surgeon-performed ultrasound despite prior neck imaging. Nodal disease was identified in 50% of patients with only 1 study and 50% of patients with greater than 1 study before surgeon-performed ultrasound. Of patients with nodes detected by surgeon-performed ultrasound, only 67% had a prereferral diagnosis of thyroid cancer.Conclusions.Our data demonstrate that reliance on standard preoperative imaging alone would have led to an incorrect initial operation in 45% of our patients. Awareness of the limitations of prereferral imaging is important for surgeons treating patients with thyroid and parathyroid disease. Surgeon-performed ultrasound is a useful tool in the diagnosis and accurate staging of patients.

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