Thyroid| Volume 171, ISSUE 1, P190-196, January 2022

Thyroid lobectomy as a cost-effective approach in low-risk papillary thyroid cancer versus active surveillance

Published:August 10, 2021DOI:



      An ongoing debate exists over the optimal management of low-risk papillary thyroid cancer. The American Thyroid Association supports the concept of active surveillance to manage low-risk papillary thyroid cancer; however, the cost-effectiveness of active surveillance has not yet been established. We sought to perform a cost-effectiveness analysis comparing active surveillance versus surgical intervention for patients in the United States.


      A Markov decision tree model was developed to compare active surveillance and thyroid lobectomy. Our reference case is a 40-year-old female who was diagnosed with unifocal (<15 mm), low-risk papillary thyroid cancer. Probabilistic outcomes, costs, and health utilities were determined using an extensive literature review. The willingness-to-pay threshold was set at $50,000/quality-adjusted life year gained. Sensitivity analyses were performed to account for uncertainty in the model's variables.


      Lobectomy provided a final effectiveness of 21.7/quality-adjusted life years, compared with 17.3/quality-adjusted life years for active surveillance. Furthermore, incremental cost effectiveness ratio for lobectomy versus active surveillance was $19,560/quality-adjusted life year (<willing-to-pay threshold of $50,000/quality-adjusted life year), and thus surgical intervention proved to be cost-effective in patients between 40 and 69 years old. Further analysis revealed that, at the age of 69 years, active surveillance is more cost-effective than lobectomy, with a final effectiveness of 17.3/quality-adjusted life years. Compared to active surveillance, the incremental cost effectiveness ratio for lobectomy at the age of 69 was $27,235/quality-adjusted life year, which decreases quality-adjusted life years by 1.5.


      Lobectomy is a cost-effective strategy in middle-aged patients with low-risk papillary thyroid cancer. In contrast, active surveillance is cost-effective beginning at the age of 69. Identification of such nuances can help physicians and patients determine the best, most individualized long-term management strategy for low-risk papillary thyroid cancer.
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