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Is central neck dissection a safe procedure in the treatment of papillary thyroid cancer? Our experience.

BACKGROUND AND AIMS: The role of central neck dissection in the treatment of papillary thyroid carcinoma is debated. This retrospective investigation was undertaken to assess whether it augments total thyroidectomy morbidity.

PATIENTS/METHODS: A total of 305 consecutive patients who had undergone total thyroidectomy for papillary thyroid carcinoma were divided into three groups: group A (n = 64) showed evidence of node metastases and received therapeutic bilateral central node dissection; group B (n = 93) showed negative nodes and received prophylactic ipsilateral central node dissection; group C (n = 148) showed negative nodes and received total thyroidectomy alone. The rates of transient and permanent complications within the three groups were compared.

RESULTS: Histopathological examination detected node metastases in 46 (72%) group A patients and in 20 (21%) group B patients. Parathyroid autotransplantation was carried out in 41 (64%) patients in group A, 55 (59%) in group B, and 43 (29%) in group C (P < 0.001). One or more parathyroid glands were found in 20% of the specimens from group A, 11% of those from group B, and 9% of those from group C. None of the patients in either group A or group B reported permanent laryngeal recurrent nerve paralysis, but two (1.3%) in group C did. Transient laryngeal recurrent nerve paralysis occurred most often in group A patients (7.8% versus 5.4% versus 1.3%, respectively) and was bilateral in two patients (one in group A and one in group B). None of the patients in either group A or group B developed permanent hypoparathyroidism, but four (2.7%) in group C did. Transient hypoparathyroidism was highest in group A patients (31% versus 27% versus 13%, respectively; P = 0.003). Postoperative bleeding requiring reoperation occurred in one group B patient and in two group C patients.

CONCLUSIONS: Central neck dissection did not increase permanent morbidity and revealed a significant rate of nonclinically evident node metastases. In experienced hands, central neck dissection should be routinely combined with total thyroidectomy in the primary treatment of pre- or intraoperatively diagnosed papillary thyroid cancer. When no macroscopic evidence of metastasis is present, ipsilateral central neck dissection is the best treatment strategy in a balanced decision between the need for achieving local radical excision, correct disease staging, and reducing the risk of complications.

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