A 2015 Survey of Clinical Practice Patterns in the Management of Thyroid Nodules

Henry B Burch, Kenneth D Burman, David S Cooper, James V Hennessey, Nicole O Vietor
Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism 2016, 101 (7): 2853-62

CONTEXT: The management of thyroid nodules has changed dramatically over the past two decades. In the interim, technological advances including high-resolution ultrasound and molecular testing of thyroid nodules have been introduced.

OBJECTIVE: We sought to document current practices in the management thyroid nodules and assess the extent to which technological advances have been incorporated into current practice. We further sought to compare current practice to recommendations made in a recently updated American Thyroid Association (ATA) clinical practice guideline (CPG) and examine differences in thyroid nodule management among international members of U.S.-based endocrine societies.

METHODS: Members of The Endocrine Society, ATA, and American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists were invited to participate in a Web-based survey dealing with testing, treatment preference, and modulating factors in patients with thyroid nodules.

RESULTS: A total of 897 respondents participated in the survey, including 661 members of The Endocrine Society, 454 American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists members, and 365 ATA members. Thyroid fine-needle aspiration (FNA) in 2015 is generally performed by endocrinologists (56.6%) and radiologists (31.9%), most frequently using ultrasound guidance (83.3%). Respondents in general have a lower threshold for FNA of thyroid nodules than that recommended in the updated ATA CPG. Management depends on the FNA result, with follicular lesion of undetermined significance/atypia of undetermined significance resulting in molecular testing (38.8% of respondents), repeat FNA cytology (31.5%), or immediate referral for thyroid surgery (24.4%). Nodules showing follicular neoplasm by FNA are referred for thyroid surgery by 61.2% of respondents (46.6 % lobectomy, 14.6 % total thyroidectomy) or molecular testing (29.0 %). Nodules found suspicious but not conclusive for malignancy (Bethesda category V), are referred for thyroid surgery (86.0%) and rarely undergo molecular testing (9.5%). During pregnancy, only 47.6% of respondents would perform FNA in the absence of nodular growth, with most respondents deferring FNA until after pregnancy. Endocrinologists are 64.2% less likely to perform FNA in an octogenarian than a younger patient with a comparable thyroid nodule. Striking international differences were identified in the routine measurement of calcitonin and in the use of molecular testing of thyroid nodules.

CONCLUSIONS: In summary, our survey of clinical endocrinologists on the management of thyroid nodules documents current practice patterns and demonstrates both concordance and focal discordance with recently updated CPGs. Both international differences and a change in practice patterns during the past two decades are demonstrated.

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