Whereas excisional surgery and radiotherapy have resulted in a favorable outcome when non-Hodgkin's lymphoma of the thyroid (NHLT) is confined to the thyroid gland, controversy persists over the potential advantage of aggressive debulking in favor of diagnostic biopsy alone when disease cannot be completely resected. Our aims in this study were to delineate the present role of surgery in NHLT in pre-operative staging, the impact of the extent of resection on achieving complete remission and cause-specific survival, and patterns of failure. All 62 patients who underwent primary surgery for NHLT at the Mayo Clinic between 1965 and 1989 were analyzed. By postoperative staging, 50 patients were stage IE or IIE. Overall survival was 53% and 46% at 5 and 10 years; 80% for stage IE confined to the thyroid, 58% for stage IE-extrathyroid, 50% for stage IIE, and 36% for stages IIIE and IVE. Complete remission was achieved in 88% of patients who underwent diagnostic biopsy plus adjuvant therapy alone compared to 85% for patients in whom debulking plus adjuvant therapy was used. There was no difference in cause-specific survival in these two groups or in cause-specific survival in two subgroups who achieved complete remission. Relapse after complete remission occurred in 12 (26%) of 46 patients, only 2 of whom survived long-term after salvage therapy. The role of surgery in NHLT is diminishing and advances that will increase complete remission and relapse-free survival will not likely involve more aggressive surgical resections.
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