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Secondary malignancy of the thyroid gland and its management

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Background: Secondary cancer of the thyroid gland is widely acknowledged as infrequent but is a persistent problem requiring ongoing awareness, particularly with respect to clinical recognition and treatment.

Methods: From 1978 to 1993, a 15-year period, patients demonstrating secondary involvement of the thyroid gland as a surgical problem were collected and analyzed with regard to pathology, demography, behavior of primary and secondary disease, treatment, and patient outcome.

Results: In the 15-year span, 11 patients with secondary involvement of the thyroid gland were recognized, consisting of 3 men and 8 women with primary lesions occurring in oral cavity, esophagus, stomach, colon, pancreas, breast, skin, unknown, kidney, and lung. Needle biopsy produced a 90% malignancy rate but in only half of such cases was the diagnosis specific for secondary malignancy. Eight of 11 underwent palliative surgery, usually total thyroidectomy. No patient survived >2 years. There was no undue surgical morbidity. One patient died of pulmonary embolus postoperatively.

Conclusions: Secondary cancer of the thyroid is rare and can be detected by fine-needle aspiration biopsy in the face of clinical findings. Where indicated, palliative thyroidectomy can be effective, because other methods of treatment appear ineffective.

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Rosen, I.B., Walfish, P.G., Bain, J. et al. Secondary malignancy of the thyroid gland and its management. Annals of Surgical Oncology 2, 252–256 (1995).

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