Published online by Cambridge University Press: 08 March 2006
Airway invasion is a life-threatening complication of thyroid cancer. An important issue that deserves better attention is the differentiation between the clinical features of tracheal wall invasion versus those of an obstructive endotracheal lesion. We present information on the clinical course, diagnostic modalities utilized, management instituted, along with the prognosis, and follow-up data on a group of patients presenting with obstructive endotracheal lesions of thyroid cancer. Two thousand four hundred and eighty-nine thyroid cancer patients were seen at our institution from December 1975 to May 2000. Thirteen patients presented with symptoms of respiratory distress related to obstructive endotracheal lesions. At presentation, 11 patients underwent endoscopic examination. Imaging studies consisting of I123 whole body scan (WBS), computed tomography/magnetic resonance imaging (CT/MRI) of neck and chest, whole body positron emission tomography using 18-fluoro-2-deoxy-D-glucose (FDGPET) were done, as also was determination of the tumour markers, serum thyroglobulin (TG) and calcitonin. Patients were followed for one to 108 months after the initial presentation. Intraluminal tracheal obstruction was severe in eight patients; five had near-total-occlusion. Paralysis of the vocal folds was present in five. Evidence of metastatic disease was present in most patients. Dissociation between iodine uptake and TG synthesis was evident in five patients during follow-up. Four patients died of cancer. Of the nine living patients; cancer persisted in six, recurred in two patients, and remitted in one. This study has identified obstructive endotracheal lesion of thyroid cancer as a distinct entity apart from tracheal wall disease. These data provide evidence that intraluminal tracheal invasion of thyroid cancer is an ominous sign and a frequent cause of morbidity.