CORONADO, CALIF. – More than 50% of patients who underwent surgery for differentiated thyroid cancer experienced shoulder morbidity up to 10 years after the procedure, results from a Dutch study showed.
“What’s causing the pain?” Dr. Romana T. Netea-Maier asked in an interview at the annual meeting of the American Thyroid Association. “It may be that the spinal accessory nerve or other nerves have been injured during the surgery. We don’t know.”
In what she said is the first study of its kind, Dr. Netea-Maier and her associates compared the prevalence of shoulder morbidity and its relation to clinical characteristics and quality of life in 109 patients who underwent surgery for differentiated thyroid cancer at Radboud University Medical Center, Nijmegen, the Netherlands, with a group of 81 healthy controls and a group of 59 patients who underwent surgery for benign thyroid pathology. Main outcome measures were the prevalence of shoulder complaints based on results of the Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder, and Hand (DASH) questionnaire and the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer, Quality of Life Questionnaire-C-30 (EORTC QLQ-C30).
Dr. Netea-Maier, of the department of medicine at the university, reported that the mean age of patients in the two surgery groups was 46 years, and 73% were women. During an average of 10 years following surgery, 59% of patients in the thyroid cancer group and 49% of patients in the benign thyroid pathology group reported shoulder morbidity, compared with 14% of controls (P < .01). The chief complaints among patients in the thyroid cancer group were pain (25%), muscle weakness (8%), and tingling (8%), while the main complaints among those with benign thyroid pathology were pain (38%), and tingling (7%).
Compared with healthy controls, patients in the thyroid cancer group scored worse on all subscales of the DASH and the EORTC QLQ-C30. On bivariate analysis, level V neck dissection, spinal accessory nerve damage, and employment status were associated with the prevalence of shoulder complaints and DASH scores, while the prevalence of shoulder complaints and DASH scores correlated significantly with EORTC QLQ-C30 scores.
The researchers found that only 12% of patients in the thyroid cancer group received preoperative information on the potential for shoulder morbidity and 35% received additional care for postoperative shoulder complaints.
“The take-home message would be to inform your patients of the potential for shoulder comorbidity, because what we have shown here is that patients do not recall being informed about this possible complication before the surgery,” Dr. Netea-Maier said. “If they have complaints, start with physiotherapy early on.”
Dr. Netea-Maier reported having no financial disclosures.
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