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Year : 2020  |  Volume : 3  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 79-83

Epidemiology and Surgical Characteristics of Thyroid Cancer in United Arab Emirates: Review of 100 Consecutive Patients

1 Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
2 Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, Digestive Disease Institute, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
3 Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, Royal College of Surgeons Ireland, Dublin, Ireland
4 Department of Anatomic Pathology, Cleveland Clinic, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
5 Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, School of Medicine, Lebanese American University, Byblos, Lebanon
6 Department of Endocrinology, Cleveland Clinic, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Date of Submission14-Jul-2019
Date of Decision27-Dec-2019
Date of Acceptance02-Jan-2020
Date of Web Publication12-Jan-2021

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Yasir Akmal
Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, Digestive Disease Institute, Abu Dhabi
United Arab Emirates
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/jdep.jdep_11_19

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BAckground and Objectives: Thyroid cancer incidence is increasing globally. There is limited data regarding the epidemiology of thyroid cancer in the Middle East and North Africa region. This region has also experienced socioeconomic changes recently that have influenced the histopathological and epidemiological pattern of thyroid cancer. The aim of this study is to evaluate the histological, epidemiologic, and surgical factors of thyroid cancer patients who underwent thyroidectomy at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi. Materials and Methods: A retrospective review of patients who underwent thyroidectomy and found to have thyroid cancer over a 2-year period from July 2015 - July 2017. The histopathological data were reviewed based on the College of American Pathologists Protocol for Carcinomas of Thyroid Gland (American Joint Committee on Cancer, 7th edition, 2010). Results: One hundred patients underwent surgery for thyroid carcinoma in our patient population. In these cancer patients, the female to male ratio was 5.25:1 and 71 patients (71%) were below 45 years of age. The most common surgery performed was total thyroidectomy at 75.7%. Papillary thyroid carcinoma (PTC) was the most common pathology in 89%, followed by follicular thyroid carcinoma (FTC) in 9%, one case of mixed papillary follicular carcinoma, and one case of Hurthle cell carcinoma. Hypocalcemia was the most common postoperative complication (20.6%). Conclusion: PTC, traditionally seen in iodine sufficient regions, is the most common histologic subtype of thyroid cancer and its rates are increasing in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Female gender and age <45 were associated with thyroid carcinoma in our UAE patient cohort.

Keywords: Epidemiology, Middle East, thyroid cancer, thyroidectomy, UAE

How to cite this article:
Alawadhi R, Matalkah A, Alzaabi S, Ahmed N, Alduaij A, Sabri A, El-Kaissi S, Akmal Y. Epidemiology and Surgical Characteristics of Thyroid Cancer in United Arab Emirates: Review of 100 Consecutive Patients. J Diabetes Endocr Pract 2020;3:79-83

How to cite this URL:
Alawadhi R, Matalkah A, Alzaabi S, Ahmed N, Alduaij A, Sabri A, El-Kaissi S, Akmal Y. Epidemiology and Surgical Characteristics of Thyroid Cancer in United Arab Emirates: Review of 100 Consecutive Patients. J Diabetes Endocr Pract [serial online] 2020 [cited 2023 Sep 30];3:79-83. Available from: https://www.jdeponline.com/text.asp?2020/3/2/79/306764

  Introduction Top

Over the past few decades, the incidence of thyroid cancer has increased dramatically, with variation in rates geographically. In the United States, the yearly incidence of thyroid cancer has tripled between 1975 and 2009 from 4.9/100,000 to 14.3/100,000.[1] In the Middle East region, thyroid cancer accounts for 9% of all malignancies, which is drastically higher than what is seen in the United States (US) where the rate is 2.9%.[2] The association between female gender and thyroid cancer is known and has been described previously. In the US, thyroid cancer affects women at a rate of 6.5–21.4/100,000, and it is also the second most common malignancy in middle age women in Saudi Arabia.[3] In the Arabian Gulf countries, thyroid cancer is considered the fifth most common cancer overall, with 5587 cases reported between 1998 and 2007.[4]

Presentation of thyroid carcinoma varies greatly, from well differentiated to undifferentiated lesions, and is indicative of the prognostic outcome of the patient. Both patient and tumor related factors influence the variability. Patient factors include age at diagnosis, gender, predisposing events (radiation, history of iodine deficiency), family history, and other endocrine malignancies. Tumor related factors to be taken into account include size, histological type and level of differentiation, and extent of tumor spread.[5]

Globally, papillary thyroid carcinoma (PTC) was reported as the most common subtype of thyroid cancer followed by follicular thyroid carcinoma (FTC), medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC), and anaplastic thyroid carcinoma (ATC).[6],[7] Similarly, PTC was the most common subtype of thyroid cancer in Saudi Arabia accounting for up to 87.7% of all thyroid cancer cases.[8],[9]

In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), there are no recent data published regarding the incidence and prevalence of thyroid cancer. The most recent data showed that 135 patients were diagnosed with thyroid carcinoma between 1991 and 2005. The study demonstrated that PTC was the most common type of thyroid cancer with an incidence of 84%.[10]

Patients with differentiated thyroid cancer are often managed according to the 2015 revised American Thyroid Association guidelines. The initial management of differentiated thyroid cancer includes staging the cancer, risk assessment, surgical interventions such as partial thyroidectomy, total thyroidectomy, and completion thyroidectomy. Furthermore, radioactive iodine (RAI) I131 and thyrotropin suppression therapy such as thyroxine can be used in some cases of thyroid cancer. Long-term management of patients with differentiated thyroid cancer focuses on the identification and prevention of recurrent disease using imaging and serum thyroglobulin, thyroid hormone therapy, and targeted therapy.[11],[12]

The aim of this study is to evaluate the histological, epidemiologic, and surgical factors of thyroid cancer patients who underwent thyroidectomy at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi in the UAE.

  Materials and Methods Top

All cases of thyroid carcinoma surgically managed between July 2015 and July 2017 at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi were included in this study. Institutional Review Board approval was obtained, and data were stored in an excel file on a password protected work computer. Cases were identified by searching all CPT codes for thyroidectomy. Those patient charts were reviewed and all patients with thyroid cancer were included. The electronic medical records (EPIC database) of study patients were retrospectively reviewed to gather information such as patient demographics, types of procedure performed, and use of RAI. The histopathological features of the tumor including the size, subtype, focality, and extra thyroidal extension were also collected. All the surgical pathology was performed and reviewed in the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi Pathology Department and was staged based on the College of American Pathologists Protocol for Carcinomas of Thyroid Gland (American Joint Committee on Cancer, 7th edition, 2010).

RAI was not available in our facility during the study period. However, cases that were recommended RAI for further management received a referral to an outside facility to receive their treatment. Those patients who received this therapy were tracked and followed up at our institution. Basic statistical analysis using Microsoft excel was used to determine the required parameters such as mean and median.

  Results Top

Two hundred and fourteen patients underwent thyroidectomy at our institution during the study period. Of these, 100 patients were noted to have thyroid carcinoma on final histopathology. These 100 patients were included in our study. Age of the patients ranged from 14 to 81 years, with median age of 38 and mean age of 39.6. At the time of diagnosis, 71/100 (71%) patients were younger than 45 years of age. The overall female to male ratio was 5.25: 1 with 84 females (84%) and 16 males (16%). There was a wide range of ethnicities of patients. Eighty-eight patients (88%) were from the Arabian Gulf states while 12 patients (12%) were from non-Gulf states. The female to male ratio in the patients from the Gulf was 5.8:1, in comparison to 3:1 in patients not from the Gulf [Table 1].
Table 1: Patient demographics

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Thirty-two percent of the total patients had one or more comorbidity while 15% demonstrated multiple comorbidities. The most common comorbidity demonstrated was hypertension (19%). Other medical conditions investigated were diabetes mellitus, dyslipidemia, and asthma (13%, 18%, and 8% respectively). Sixty-eight percent of patients had preoperative Vitamin D deficiency.

Surgical procedures performed at our facility included total thyroidectomy, hemithyroidectomy, and completion thyroidectomy [Table 1]. The total number of procedures performed during this period was 107 on the 100 patients. Seven patients had initial hemithyroidectomy in our institution followed by completion thyroidectomy due to malignancy found on surgical pathology. Two patients underwent completion thyroidectomy following initial surgery at an outside facility. The most common procedure performed was total thyroidectomy (75.7%) followed by hemithyroidectomy (15.9%). There were 17 patients who had positive lymph nodes and 13 patients required formal lymph node dissection with total thyroidectomy. None of the patients in this study had distant metastases. Following surgical management, 32% of patients received RAI. An additional 5% were advised to receive RAI but were either lost to follow-up or declined.

PTC was the most common pathological subtype (89%). This was followed by FTC (9%). Only 1 case of mixed papillary and follicular and 1 case of Hurthle cell carcinoma were present. Seventeen cases (17%) showed extrathyroidal extension, 10 cases (10%) showed angioinvasion, and 6 cases (6%) showed lymphatic invasion. The majority of tumors demonstrated unifocality (59%), while 41% were multifocal. Tumor size ranged from 0.16 cm to 8 cm with a median size of the largest tumor in each patient of 1.6 cm [Table 2]. The length of patient follow-up ranged from 0.3 months to 54.2 months. The median follow-up of patients was 32.9 months with mean follow-up of 30.6 months. During this period of follow-up, there were no patients found to have histologically confirmed recurrence. There was one patient who travelled outside the country after the first operation and was noted to have nodal disease on postoperative imaging so underwent neck dissection and RAI ablation. Another patient developed a small suspicious area of tissue near thyroid resection bed noted on whole body thyroid scan about a year after surgery; but, this was just monitored. None of the patients developed distant metastatic disease.
Table 2: Pathologic tumor types and characteristics

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The postoperative complication rate in our study was 25% overall, with transient hypocalcemia being the most common complication in 22 cases (22%). Other complications included 2 cases of transient voice change, as well as tachycardia, lymph leak, and hematoma requiring operative intervention in single cases each [Table 3]. All the complications occurred in patients who underwent either total thyroidectomy or completion thyroidectomy. Patients who underwent hemithyroidectomy demonstrated no complications postoperatively.
Table 3: Postoperative complications (n=107)

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  Discussion Top

The current study describes the demographic and histological characteristics of patients who underwent thyroidectomy for thyroid cancer at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi in the UAE between July 2015 and July 2017.

Our study included 100 patients diagnosed with thyroid cancer among whom 84% were females. Over the past 4 decades in the US, 77,276 patients were diagnosed with thyroid cancer with PTC being the most common subtype.[13] In Europe, specifically in Germany, 42,789 cases with thyroid cancer were reported; 68% and 32% of the cases were females and males, respectively.[14] In the Middle East region, 7670 thyroid cancer cases were reported in Saudi Arabia with 6066 (79.1%) cases occurring in females while 1604 (20.9%) cases occurring in males.[15]

PTC was the most common histological diagnosis. PTC is the most common subtype of thyroid cancer in different countries around the world[5],[15],[16],[17] FTC was found to be the second most common subtype of thyroid cancer in the literature[6],[16],[17],[18] In our study, we did not demonstrate any anaplastic or MTC, while the incidence in the literature is 1.44% and 1.4%, respectively.[1],[3] This could be explained by the small sample size of this study and the low rate of incidence of these subtypes. Furthermore, our patient population included surgically resectable tumors. Considering the aggressiveness of anaplastic carcinoma at presentation, surgical resection is not always the primary management option so these tumors would likely not be identified in the present study. PTC is traditionally seen in iodine-sufficient countries, and a 2015 study done in the UAE showed the rate of PTC to be 84% in comparison to our study which found PTC in 89%.[10]

The management of thyroid cancer differs among patients. In the present study, different types of surgeries were performed on the patients. As mentioned in the results, 75.7% of the patients had total thyroidectomy, 15.9% underwent hemithyroidectomy, and 8.4% had completion thyroidectomy. Furthermore, 32% of patients received RAI treatment after surgery. A study conducted in Saudi Arabia demonstrated that 600 patients who had thyroid cancer between 2004 and 2005 underwent different types of treatments. Ninety-three percent of cases had total or near-total thyroidectomy. RAI was given to 82% of the cases. Seventeen patients did not undergo surgery due to different reasons such as poor prognosis, old age, and different comorbidities.[9] In our study, only 15% of patients demonstrated comorbidities but were still considered surgical candidates.

In the present study, tumor sizes ranged from 0.16 cm to 8 cm. There were 17 patients who were noted to have positive lymph nodes. Of these patients, For patients who had positive lymph nodes the median size of tumors was 2.2 cm. Eight of patients with positive lymph nodes had tumors 2–4 cm in size (47%) and only one had a tumor >4 cm (5.9%). The overall median size of the largest tumors in our patients was 1.6 cm. Therefore, lymph node metastases occurred in about 47% of patients with tumors ≤2 cm. On median follow-up of 32.9 months, no confirmed local or distant recurrence was noted in our patient cohort.

Complications of thyroidectomy are subdivided into early and late complications. Early complications include hemorrhage, wound infection, voice changes, and vocal cord paralysis. Hypothyroidism and permanent hypocalcemia are considered late complications. Weiss et al.[19] found that hypocalcaemia accounted for 4.55% of postthyroidectomy complications followed by hematoma (1.75%), vocal cord paralysis (1.1%), and voice changes (0.52%). The complication rates in our study included hypocalcemia in 20.6% of cases, and hematoma and transient voice change at rates of 0.9%. The cases of hypocalcemia were all transient and no long-term hypocalcemia occurred in this patient cohort. Vitamin D deficiency is commonly seen in our region, which has been mostly attributed to change in cultural practices and traditional dress that limits exposure to sunlight. Sixty-eight percent of our patient cohort had Vitamin D deficiency preoperatively that might have influenced the higher rate of hypocalcaemia in our study. This association is confirmed by a study done by Al-Khatib, et al. in Saudi Arabia that found severe Vitamin D deficiency to be an independent predictor of postoperative hypocalcaemia after total thyroidectomy.[20]

In summary, thyroid carcinoma incidence is increasing worldwide with varying rates. In addition to traditional risk factors, there are unique factors that influence the rates and histopathology pattern in our patient population. These factors include the rapid socioeconomic growth that was seen in our region that has led to the decrease in iodine deficiency and therefore an increase in rates of PTC subtypes, which are traditionally seen in iodine-sufficient regions. Other factors include the increased exposure to radioactive material in the past few decades due to recent conflicts in the region that have potentially influenced the overall rate of thyroid carcinoma. The predominance of thyroid disease in females and younger patients (<45 years of age) was displayed in our study which suggests that female gender and young age are risk factors for thyroid cancer. Our study was a retrospective cohort study at a single institution so may not completely reflect the characteristics of the wider population in the region. However, due to the continuous growth and changing landscape in our region, further studies are needed to demonstrate the influence of these changes on our patient population.

  Conclusion Top

In this study of thyroid cancer in the UAE, most patients had papillary thyroid carcinoma. There was also a predominance of malignancy in females patients under the age of 45. More studies are required to evaluate the epidemiology and characteristics of patients with thyroid cancer in the Middle East region.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

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Brito JP, Davies L. Is there really an increased incidence of thyroid cancer? Curr Opin Endocrinol Diabetes Obes 2014;21:405-8.  Back to cited text no. 3
Al-Qahtani KH, Tunio MA, Asiri MA, Bayoumi Y, Balbaid A, Aljohani NJ, et al. Comparative clinicopathological and outcome analysis of differentiated thyroid cancer in Saudi patients aged below 60 years and above 60 years. Clin Interv Aging 2016;11:1169-74.  Back to cited text no. 4
Al-Madouj AN, Eldali A, Zahrani AS. 10 Year Cancer Incidence among Nationals of the GCC Sates 1998-2007. Vol. 1. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: Executive Board of Health Ministers' Council for the Gulf Cooperation Council State; 2011. p. 28-30.  Back to cited text no. 5
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Albasri A, Sawaf Z, Hussainy AS, Alhujaily A. Histopathological patterns of thyroid disease in Al-Madinah region of Saudi Arabia. Asian Pac J Cancer Prev 2014;15:5565-70.  Back to cited text no. 8
Alzahrani AS, Alomar H, Alzahrani N. Thyroid cancer in Saudi Arabia: A Histopathological and outcome study. Int J Endocrinol 2017;2017: 8423147.  Back to cited text no. 9
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Trocchi P, Kluttig A, Dralle H, Sekulla C, Biermann M, Stang A. Thyroid cancer surgery in Germany: An analysis of the nationwide DRG statistics 2005-2006. Langenbecks Arch Surg 2012;397:421-8.  Back to cited text no. 14
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Al-Khatib T, Althubaiti AM, Althubaiti A, Mosli HH, Alwasiah RO, Badawood LM. Severe Vitamin D deficiency: A significant predictor of early hypocalcemia after total thyroidectomy. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg 2015;152:424-31.  Back to cited text no. 20


  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3]


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