Thyroid cancer incidence is rapidly increasing due to increased detection and diagnosis of indolent thyroid cancer, i.e. cancer that is likely to be clinically insignificant. Clinical, radiologic, and pathologic features predicting indolent behavior of thyroid cancer are still largely unknown and unstudied. Existing clinicopathologic staging systems are useful for providing prognosis in the context of treated thyroid cancer but are not designed for and are inadequate for predicting indolent behavior. Ultrasound studies have primarily focused on discrimination between malignant and benign nodules; some studies show promising data on using sonographic features for predicting indolence but are still in their early stages. Similarly, molecular studies are being developed to better characterize thyroid cancer and improve the yield of fine needle aspiration biopsy, but definite markers of indolent thyroid cancer have yet to be identified. Nonetheless, active surveillance has been introduced as an alternative to surgery in the case of indolent thyroid microcarcinoma, and protocols for safe surveillance are in development. As increased detection of thyroid cancer is all but inevitable, increased research on predicting indolent behavior is needed to avoid an epidemic of overtreatment.
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