Oct. 10, 2012 Researchers at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital have shown that age 45 is no longer a useful predictor of negative outcomes in the staging of papillary thyroid cancer patients.
Their findings were among the most impactful abstracts recently presented at the American Thyroid Association annual meeting in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.
Since the 1970s, physicians have used age of diagnosis to determine the severity of thyroid cancers. Papillary Thyroid Cancers -- those including affected lymph nodes -- diagnosed before age 45 are designated as Stage 1, following the American Joint Committee on Cancer and the International Union Against Cancer TNM Classification of Malignant Tumors staging system. The same papillary thyroid cancer with lymph node involvement presenting after age 45 years is Stage 3.
With 34,000 new cases of papillary thyroid cancer diagnosed annually, the group set out to determine the scientific validity of diagnosis at 45 years of age and over as such a powerful negative prognosticator. "While this staging system was once accurate and effective, we are seeing that patients age 45-64 have similar outcomes to those under age 45 years," says Jeffrey L. Miller, MD, co-director of the Thyroid Center at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and lead researcher on the study.
A review of the literature determined that this age marker was first set forth in a study in 1979, followed by a paper in 1993 reviewing 1,779 patients treated for papillary thyroid cancer from 1940 to 1989 to determine the variables most prognostic of mortality. When looking at age, the mortality curve seemed most pronounced in patients greater than 60 years of age. A 2005 study showed significant declines in mortality in patients greater than 45 years of age, though no statistics for other age ranges were given.
The Jefferson team subsequently analyzed thyroid cancers diagnosed between 2001 and 2007 in the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Result (SEER) database and reviewed 5-year survival rates. Of the 45,390 cases reviewed, the most significant drop in survival rate was seen in those age 65 to 74 years, though prognosis was still good at 92.0 percent. An even more marked survival difference was noted in those diagnosed with thyroid cancer at age 75 and older at 82.2 percent.
"With time, we have developed new therapies and surgical techniques, leading to better survival rates," says Miller. "This leads many patients to have a more favorable prognosis, avoid potentially unnecessary therapies and allay patients' fears about their longevity up to age 64. We feel that age 45 is no longer an appropriate age designation to influence papillary thyroid cancer prognosis," he says.
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