Background: The incidence of papillary thyroid cancer has increased substantially during the past 15 years, which is likely related to an increased detection of small, nonlethal cancers. Studies have shown that patients may have a similar prognosis when undergoing less aggressive surgical intervention, such as thyroid lobectomy. The objective of this study is to determine whether surgical treatment patterns for papillary thyroid cancer have changed during the past 15 years. Methods: We performed a retrospective cohort study evaluating changes in the incidence and proportion of total thyroidectomy versus thyroid lobectomy for histologically confirmed papillary thyroid cancers, using the National Cancer Institute Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results cancer registries between 2000 and 2014. Results: During the study period, 44,537 patients underwent surgical treatment for papillary thyroid cancer, of which 77% were female and 81.3% were white. The incidence of papillary thyroid cancer more than doubled: from 6.2 (5.9–6.5) to 13.0 (12.5–13.4) per 100,000. The proportion of total thyroidectomy among all papillary cases increased from 78.16% in 2000 to 85.67% in 2014, and the proportion of thyroid lobectomy dropped from 16.62% to 11.41%. When stratified by tumor size, we observed a sustained and increasing gap in the proportions of total thyroidectomy and thyroid lobectomy. Conclusion: The incidence of total thyroidectomy has not decreased despite recommendations encouraging consideration of lobectomy for patients with small papillary thyroid cancers. Although these findings could be attributed to the lag between scientific evidence and clinical practice, further work is warranted to explore any additional patient and provider factors that may explain this lack of change.
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