Radiofrequency Ablation and Thyroid Nodules: Updated Systematic Review


Purpose: In the thyroid gland, radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is being applied to both benign nodules and cancers internationally, while interest is also growing in the West. Benign thyroid nodules (BTNs) may be candidates for intervention when symptoms develop. For differentiated thyroid cancers (DTC), surgery is currently the first-line treatment. However, for candidates with high surgical risk or those who refuse to undergo repeated surgery, newer techniques such as RFA are an option. Surgery is associated with complications including hypothyroidism, voice change, hypocalcemia, and a scar. RFA has been used in Asian and European institutions as an alternative to surgery, but is relatively new in North America. Although RFA is not associated with significant complications, few randomized control trials have assessed its efficacy. The studies to date suggest a low rate of severe complications and a small need for thyroid hormone replacement following RFA. Further large-scale studies focusing on a Western population are needed. The aim of this review is to evaluate the evidence with respect to the current studies and data about the safety and efficacy of radiofrequency ablation for the management of BTNs and DTC.

Methods: We systematically searched the PubMed/MEDLINE, EMBASE, Clinical Queries, and Web of Science databases, for articles published up to April 30th, 2020.

Results: Total of 75 studies that met the inclusion criteria were included in the review. Thirty-five studies focused on RFA use for solid nodules, 12 studies on predominantly cystic nodules, 10 for autonomously functioning thyroid nodules, and 18 studied were published on differentiated thyroid cancer.

Conclusions: RFA seems to be an effective and safe alternative to surgery in high-risk surgical patients with thyroid cancers and for selected BTNs. Additional trials with longer follow-up in North American patients are needed to validate its full role in the armamentarium of thyroid ologists.

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