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Eur J Surg Oncol. 2006 Apr;32(3):340-4. Epub 2006 Feb 14.

Lymphadenectomy for papillary thyroid cancer: changes in practice over four decades.

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  • 1Endocrine Surgical Unit, Department of Surgery, Royal North Shore Hospital, University of Sydney, St Leonards, Sydney, NSW 2065, Australia.



Lymphadenectomy in the management of papillary thyroid cancer (PTC) has evolved. The aim of this study was to examine the changing role of neck dissection as reflected in the practice of a large thyroid unit over four decades.


A retrospective cohort study of patients that underwent primary thyroid surgery for papillary cancer in a single unit in the period 1958-2002. Nine 5-year periods were considered and the data relevant to the treatment of the regional lymph nodes reviewed.


Nine hundred patients with PTC underwent surgery between 1958 and 2002 of whom 32.7% underwent lymph node dissection (LND). The use of lymphadenectomy increased from 21.4% in 1958-1962 to 48.1% in 1998-2002 of which 84% underwent a selective lymph node dissection (SLND)-a dissection where the LND is determined by the extent of the disease encountered. The mean number of nodes removed during SLND was 12.6 (range 1-56) of which a mean of 3.1 (24.8%) (0-19) were involved by the disease. Cervical levels 6 and level 4 were those most frequently dissected. There was no statistically significant difference in the complication rates in patients undergoing neck dissection and those not.


The four decade experience reflects a move away from modified radical neck dissection and cherry picking towards SLND. Growing evidence suggests that lymphadenopathy in adult PTC is an adverse prognostic factor. SLND, a lymphadenectomy tailored to the extent of the disease process, is the coherent treatment for PTC since it serves the dual purpose of staging as well as control of local disease. This can be achieved with little morbidity when performed in a specialist centre.

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