Lymph node metastases for well-differentiated thyroid cancer are associated with high recurrence rates. Surgical options consist of blind nodal sampling, "berry-picking"procedures, and modified radical neck dissections. Sentinel lymph node dissection (SLND) has been described by our institution for melanoma and breast cancer. We have investigated the feasibility of SLND for thyroid cancer.
From August 1994 to October 1996 we investigated the technique of intraoperative lymphatic mapping and SLND in 17 patients undergoing surgical management of a suspicious thyroid nodule not accompanied by palpable cervical adenopathy.
Patients were referred from endocrinologists in community and academic practices. Procedures were performed in a community hospital.
There were 14 women and 3 men, ranging in age from 22 to 69 years (median, 48 years).
At surgery, we exposed the thyroid lobe and used a tuberculin syringe to inject 0.1 to 0.8 mL of 1.0% isosulfan blue dye (mean, 0.5 mL) directly into the thyroid mass. Within seconds the blue dye passed along the lymphatics to the sentinel lymph node, which was then excised. Nodes were examined by routine processing and keratin immunohistochemical analysis to detect micrometastasis.
Main Outcome Measures
The feasibility of lymphatic mapping in determining primary drainage of suspicious thyroid nodules.
Lymphatic mapping and SLND was followed by total thyroidectomy, except in 1 patient who underwent lobectomy for benign disease. Of the 17 nodules, 12 were ultimately diagnosed as thyroid carcinoma, 3 were follicular adenomas, and 2 were colloid nodules. Tumor sizes ranged from 0.8 to 4.0 cm. Lymphatic mapping was unsuccessful in 2 patients, whose lymphatics mapped to the retrosternum. All of the sentinel lymph nodes were paratracheal except in 2 women who also had jugular nodes that stained blue. Five (42%) of the 12 tumor nodules were associated with positive sentinel lymph nodes. Central neck dissections were performed in 5 patients; in 2 instances (17%), the sentinel node was the only tumor-bearing lymph node.
This is the first report of SLND for thyroid carcinoma. Our preliminary findings indicate that SLND can detect nonpalpable nodal metastasis with the same ease as in melanoma and breast cancer. The clinical significance of this technique in thyroid cancer remains to be determined.