Conference Coverage

VIDEO: Less follow-up proposed for low-risk thyroid cancer


AT WCTC 2017

Many selected patients with low- or intermediate-risk differentiated thyroid cancer who have had excellent or good responses to their treatment may be able to safely transition to follow-up monitoring at longer intervals, Bryan R. Haugen, MD, suggested in a keynote lecture during the World Congress on Thyroid Cancer.

Traditionally, thyroid cancer specialists have monitored these patients for persistent or recurrent disease as often as every 6 or 12 months. “But what we’ve realized with recent assessments of response to treatment is that some patients do well without a recurrence over many years; so, the concept of doing less monitoring and less imaging, especially in patients with an excellent response [to their initial treatment], is being studied,” Dr. Haugen said in a video interview following his talk.

He estimated that perhaps two-thirds or as many as three-quarters of patients with differentiated thyroid cancer fall into the category of having low- or intermediate-risk disease with an excellent or good response to treatment, and hence they are potential candidates for eventually transitioning to less frequent follow-up.

During his talk, Dr. Haugen suggested that after several years with no sign of disease recurrence, lower-risk patients with an excellent treatment response may be able to stop undergoing regular monitoring, and those with a good treatment response may be able to safely have their monitoring intervals extended.

According to the most recent (2015) guidelines for differentiated thyroid cancer management from the American Thyroid Association, lower-risk patients with an excellent treatment response should have their serum thyroglobulin measured every 12-24 months and undergo an ultrasound examination every 3-5 years, while patients with a good response are targeted for serum thyroglobulin measurement annually with an ultrasound every 1-3 years (Thyroid. 2016 Jan;26[1]:1-133). Dr. Haugen chaired the expert panel that wrote these guidelines.

In another provocative suggestion, Dr. Haugen proposed that once well-responsive, lower-risk patients have remained disease free for several years, their less frequent follow-up monitoring could be continued by a primary care physician or another less specialized clinician.

At some time in the future, “a patient’s primary care physician could follow a simple tumor marker, thyroglobulin, maybe once every 5 years,” said Dr. Haugen, professor of medicine and head of the division of endocrinology, metabolism, and diabetes at the University of Colorado in Aurora. “At the University of Colorado, we use advanced-practice providers to do long-term follow-up” for lower-risk, treatment-responsive patients, he said.

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