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PLoS One. 2019 Jun 14;14(6):e0218171. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0218171. eCollection 2019.

Minimal extrathyroidal extension affects the prognosis of differentiated thyroid cancer: Is there a need for change in the AJCC classification system?

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Department of Plastic Surgery, Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University, Wuhan, China.
Department of Pediatrics, St John Hospital and Medical Center, Detroit, MI, United States of America.
Department of Cardiovascular Surgery, Union Hospital, Tongji Medical College, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan, China.
Department of Ophthalmology, Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University, Wuhan, China.


Minimal extrathyroidal extension (ETE) is defined as tumor cells extending to the sternothyroid muscle or perithyroidal soft tissue. However, there is controversy regarding whether the magnitude of ETE (minimal or gross) should be considered in assigning a precise TNM stage to patients with thyroid cancer in the seventh/eighth editions of the AJCC system. The present study evaluated Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results data from 107,114 patients with differentiated thyroid cancer (2004-2013) to determine whether the magnitude of ETE (thyroid confinement, minimal, or gross) influenced the ability to predict cancer-specific survival (CSS) and overall survival (OS). Patient mortality was evaluated using Cox proportional hazards regression analyses and Kaplan-Meier analyses with log-rank tests. The cancer-specific mortality rates per 1,000 person-years were 1.407 for the thyroid confinement group (95% CI: 1.288-1.536), 5.133 for the minimal ETE group (95% CI: 4.301-6.124), and 29.735 for the gross ETE group (95% CI: 28.147-31.412). Relative to the thyroid confinement group, patients with minimal ETE and gross ETE had significantly poorer CSS and OS in the univariate and multivariate analyses (both P<0.001). After propensity-score matching according to age, sex, and race, we found that thyroid confinement was associated with better CSS and OS rates than minimal ETE (P<0.001) and gross ETE (P<0.001). These results from a population-based cohort provide a reference for precise personalized treatment and management of patients with minimal ETE. Furthermore, it may be prudent to revisit the magnitude of ETE as advocated by the AJCC and currently used for treatment recommendation by the American Thyroid Association.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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