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Cancer Health Center

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Thyroid Cancer Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Stage I and II Papillary and Follicular Thyroid Cancer


I131: Studies have shown that a postoperative course of therapeutic (ablative) doses of I131 results in a decreased recurrence rate among high-risk patients with papillary and follicular carcinomas.[4] For optimal treatment with RAI, total thyroidectomy is recommended with minimal thyroid remnant remaining. With a large thyroid remnant, a low thyroglobulin level cannot be achieved, which increases the chance of requiring multiple doses of RAI.

Consideration of RAI for remnant ablation is based on pathological risk features including:

  • Evaluation of the size of the primary tumor.
  • The presence of lymphovascular invasion.
  • Capsule invasion.
  • The number of involved lymph nodes.

RAI may be given with one of two methods of thyrotropin stimulation: withdrawal of thyroid hormone or recombinant human thyrotropin (rhTSH). Administered rhTSH maintains quality of life and reduces the radiation dose delivered to the body compared with thyroid hormone withdrawal.[13] Patients presenting with papillary thyroid microcarcinomas (tumors <10 mm), which are considered to be very low risk, have an excellent prognosis when treated surgically, and additional therapy with I131 would not be expected to improve the prognosis.[11]

The role of RAI in low-risk patients is not clear because disease-free survival (DFS) or overall survival (OS) benefits have not been demonstrated. One study reviewed 1,298 patients from the French Thyroid Cancer Registry.[14] Patients were identified as having low-risk papillary or follicular cancer as they are defined by the American Thyroid Association and the European Thyroid Association criteria:

  • Complete tumor resection.
  • Multifocal pT1 <1 cm.
  • pT1 >1 cm.
  • pT2, pN0, pM0 (American Joint Committee on Cancer/Union Internationale Contre le Cancer [AJCC/UICC]) corresponds to stage I for patients younger than 45 years old.
  • pT2, pN0, pM0 (AJCC/UICC) corresponds to stages 1 and 2 for patients older than 45 years old.
  • pT1 and pT2 without lymph node dissection (Nx).

Of the 1,298 patients, 911 patients received RAI after surgery, and 387 patients did not receive RAI after surgery. Follow-up period was 10.3 years; in multivariate analyses, there were no differences in OS (P = .243) or DFS (P = .2659), according to RAI use.[14]

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