Undesired consequences and a patient’s profession should weigh heavily in the decision to have thyroid surgery, or not.
Dr. Allen Ho
is a fellowship-trained head and neck surgeon who focuses on head and neck tumors, including HPV(+) throat cancers and thyroid malignancies. As director of the Head and Neck Cancer Program and co-director of the Thyroid Cancer Program, he leads the multidisciplinary Cedars-Sinai Head and Neck Tumor Board, which provides consensus management options for complex, advanced cases. Ho’s research interests are highly integrated into his clinical practice. His current efforts lie in cancer proteomics, HPV(+) oropharyngeal cancer pathogenesis, and thyroid cancer molecular assays. He has presented his research at AACR, ASCO, AHNS, and ATA, and has published extensively as lead author in journals that include Nature Genetics, Journal of Clinical Oncology, Cancer, and Thyroid.
Ho serves on national committees within the ATA and AHNS, and is principal investigator of a national trial on micropapillary thyroid cancer active surveillance (ClinicalTrials.gov ID: NCT02609685). He maintains expertise in transoral robotic surgery (TORS), minimally invasive thyroidectomy approaches, and nerve preservation techniques. Ho’s overarching mission is to partner with patients to optimize treatment and provide compassionate, exceptional care.
Weighing treatment options for thyroid cancer, with deep consideration for the patient’s lifestyle, could become the new norm in assessing whether surgery is the best path.
Dr. Allen Ho states, “if a patient is a ballerina or an opera singer, or any other profession that could be jeopardized due to undesired consequences of thyroid cancer surgery, then the best treatment path maybe active surveillance.” Undesired consequences of thyroid cancer surgery could be vocal cord paralysis, damage to the parathyroid glands resulting in calcium deficiencies, excessive bleeding or formation of a major blood clot in the neck, shoulder nerve damage, numbness, wound infection, and mental impairment due to hypothyroid-like symptoms. Or in the case of a ballerina, undesired scarring could jeopardize a career.
The above risks occur in approximately 10% of thyroid cancer surgeries. Although, some thyroid cancer treatment centers have a much more reduced incidence of undesired consequences, while others much higher.
In order to address the above and remove the risk of thyroid cancer surgery, Cedars-Sinai has become the first west coast hospital to launch an active surveillance study as optional treatment for thyroid cancer. The study includes 200 patients from across the country who have chosen the wait and see approach rather than hurry into a surgery that could result in undesired, major life changes. By waiting, this means these patients will dodge the need to take daily hormone replacement medication for the rest of their lives as the result of a thyroidectomy.
Other active surveillance research
Although this is the first study for active surveillance on the west coast, other studies are ongoing, including Sloan Kettering as directed by Dr. Tuttle, Kuma Hospital in Kobe as directed by Dr. Miyauchi, and the Dartmouth Institute as directed by Dr. Louise Davies.
Dr. Ho says the “de-escalating” of treatment for thyroid cancer will become the new trend. The active surveillance thyroid cancer team at Cedars-Sinai is orchestrated to the patient’s needs, and includes the pathologist, endocrinologist, and surgeon.