Both the association between lymphocytic thyroiditis (LT) and papillary thyroid carcinoma (PTC), and the prognostic significance of lymphocytic infiltrate in patients with thyroid malignancy, remain controversial. We examine the above relationships by retrospectively reviewing our series of patients treated for differentiated nonmedullary thyroid carcinoma at University of California-San Francisco over a 25-yr period (1970-1995). Of the 631 patients with complete data for analysis, 128 patients (20.3%) showed concomitant histologic evidence of LT and 503 patients (79.7%) had no evidence of LT. Prognostic outcome was assessed using Kaplan-Meier survival plots and analysis of risk factors by Cox's proportional-hazard modeling. The cohort with LT revealed a higher frequency of PTC (97.7% vs. 87.3%) and female patients (85.2% vs. 66.8%), a lower frequency of extrathyroidal invasion (7.8% vs. 23.3%) and nodal metastases (25.8% vs. 43.3%), and absence of distant metastases (0% vs. 4.8%), respectively, compared with those without LT. At initial surgery, a significantly greater proportion of patients with LT belonged to lower pathological tumor-node-metastasis stages, compared with those without LT (stage 1, 86.7% vs. 73%; stage 2, 4.7% vs. 8.3%; stage 3, 8.6% vs. 15.3%; and stage 4, 0% vs. 3.4%). Over a mean +/- SE follow-up period of 11.1 +/- 0.4 yr, patients with LT had significantly lower cancer recurrence rate (6.3% vs. 24.1%; P < 0.0001) and cancer mortality rate (0.8% vs. 8.0%; P = 0.001), respectively, compared with those without LT. In summary, our series showed a relatively common occurrence of LT in patients with PTC, and we believed that lymphocytic infiltration developed mainly in response to the tumor itself. We also found a more favorable course of PTC in the presence of LT; this supports the hypothesis that lymphocytic infiltration represents a form of immune reaction to control tumor growth and proliferation.
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