Back so soon? Is early recurrence of papillary thyroid cancer really just persistent disease?

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Background.Papillary thyroid carcinoma has excellent survival, yet recurrence remains a challenge. We sought to determine the proportion of reoperations performed for persistent, rather than truly recurrent, disease.Methods.We conducted a retrospective review of a prospectively maintained database. Patients with papillary thyroid carcinoma who underwent reoperation for disease from 2000–2016 were included. We defined recurrence as disease that developed after a patient had an undetectable thyroglobulin and a negative ultrasonography within 1 year of operation.Results.A total of 69 patients underwent 92 reoperations. On initial pathology, mean tumor size was 2.6 cm, 51% were multifocal, and 42% had extrathyroidal extension. Half (46%) of the patients underwent a central/lateral neck dissection at the initial operation, and 77% were treated with postoperative radioactive iodine. The median time to first reoperation was 21 months (range, 1–292), and 42% occurred within 1 year. Only 3 operations met criteria for true “recurrence,” while 71 operations were categorized as persistent disease.Conclusion.Many reoperations for papillary thyroid carcinoma are for management of persistent disease. More than half of the patients required reoperation within the first 2 years, which suggests strongly that improvements in the preoperative assessment and adequacy of initial operative therapy need to be made to improve the care of patients with thyroid cancer.

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