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Acta Otolaryngol. 2011 Dec;131(12):1341-8. doi: 10.3109/00016489.2011.607844. Epub 2011 Sep 5.

The first report of bilateral retropharyngeal lymph node metastasis from papillary thyroid carcinoma and review of the literature.

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Department of Otorhinolaryngology, Shinshu University School of Medicine, Matsumoto, Japan.


The sites of lymph node metastasis of papillary thyroid carcinomas are typically the paratracheal and jugular lymph nodes. On the other hand, metastasis to the retropharyngeal or parapharyngeal nodes from papillary thyroid carcinomas is very rare. During the last two decades, limited to cases with a histologically definite diagnosis by surgery, only 39 cases have been reported. All reported cases were unilateral retropharyngeal or parapharyngeal node metastasis except one metachronous bilateral case, and there were no reports of simultaneous bilateral cases within our literature review. We report three cases of retropharyngeal node metastasis from thyroid papillary carcinoma, including a case of bilateral nodal metastasis. Retropharyngeal node metastasis was successfully resected in all three patients by the transcervical approach. As pointed out in past reports, this report also suggests that prior neck dissection and/or metastasis to cervical lymph nodes might alter the direction of lymphatic drainage to the retrograde fashion, resulting in the unusual metastasis to the retropharyngeal lymph nodes, and there is a possibility of a bilateral pattern. Also, it is necessary to consider the possibility of metastasis from a papillary thyroid carcinoma in the differential diagnosis of lymph node swelling in the parapharyngeal space.

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