Differences between endocrinologists and endocrine surgeons in management of the solitary thyroid nodule

John P Walsh, Simon A Ryan, Dean Lisewski, Mohammed Z Alhamoudi, Suzanne Brown, Finn N Bennedbaek, Lazlo Hegedüs
Clinical Endocrinology 2007, 66 (6): 844-53

BACKGROUND: It is not known whether management of the solitary thyroid nodule differs between endocrinologists and endocrine surgeons.

METHODS: A questionnaire containing a hypothetical case (a 42-year-old euthyroid woman with a 2-x-3-cm solitary thyroid nodule) and 13 clinical variations was sent to endocrinologists and endocrine surgeons in Australia.

RESULTS: The response rate was 51%, including 122 endocrinologists and 48 endocrine surgeons. For the index case, serum thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), fine needle aspiration biopsy (FNAB) and ultrasonography were widely used by both groups, but thyroid antibody tests and scintigraphy were ordered more commonly by endocrinologists. In the setting of benign cytology, treatment differed significantly between specialties for the index case (endocrinologists: no treatment 78%, surgery 11%, thyroxine 11%; surgeons: no treatment 73%, surgery 25%, thyroxine 2%; P = 0.032). Treatment recommendations also differed significantly for 12 of the 13 clinical variations. In particular, for a patient with a suppressed serum TSH concentration, a majority of endocrinologists recommended radioiodine treatment, whereas surgeons favoured surgery (endocrinologists: radioiodine 53%, surgery 22%, no treatment 25%; surgeons: surgery 60%, radioiodine 11%, no treatment 27%; P < 0.001). For most of the variations, a higher proportion of surgeons than endocrinologists recommended surgical treatment. Comparison with previous surveys of European Thyroid Association and American Thyroid Association members (predominantly endocrinologists) demonstrated considerable international differences in management.

CONCLUSION: There are clinically significant differences between Australian endocrinologists and endocrine surgeons in management of the solitary thyroid nodule, and international differences in management of this disorder.

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