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In patients with overt thyrotoxicosis, definitive forms of treatment include surgical excision of the nodule, treatment with radioactive iodine, or percutaneous ethanol injection (11, 16). Treatment with antithyroid drugs is used infrequently as it requires long-term therapy and a relapse will almost invariably occur after discontinuation of the medication. Surgical excision permits to achieve a rapid and permanent control of hyperthyroidism with a very low operative complication rate. The disadvantage of a surgical approach includes the risks of general anesthesia and the potential complications of thyroid surgery. Usually the patient is treated preoperatively with antithyroid drugs and beta-blockers. The incidence of hypothyroidism after operation is low, but may occur. In a series of 60 patients operated for AFTNs, % became hypothyroid after operation (17). Two of these patients had previously received therapeutic doses of 131iodine or long-term treatment with antithyroid drugs. In a series of 35 patients with a solitary toxic adenoma, lobectomy resulted in 30 euthyroid and 5 hypothyroid outcomes, although hypothyroidism was only temporary in 3 patients (4). It remains unclear why some of these patients remained permanently hypothyroid after lobectomy; information about the presence of autoantibodies and the morphology of the contralateral lobe is not provided in this study. Generally, it is believed that long-term suppression of the thyroid gland does not lead to permanent inactivation after suppression is relieved. Administration of 131iodine is a widely used therapeutic modality for patients with toxic adenomas. The main disadvantage consists in the possibility of permanent hypothyroidism in a subset of patients. In a study by Goldstein et al., 23 patients were followed for 4 to years and 8/23 (35%) developed hypothyroidism (18). The incidence of hypothyroidism was not related to nodule size, the level of thyroid function, or the administered dose of 131iodine. In a similar study by Mariotti et al. on 126 patients, 5/126 (4%) developed overt hypothyroidism 1 to 10 years after 131iodine therapy (19). There was no relationship between the development of hypothyroidism, nodule size or the administered dose of 131iodine (19). Hypothyroidism occurred in % of patients with an euthyroid hot nodule treated with 131iodine, and in only % of patients with a toxic adenoma. When antithyroglobulin and/or antithyroid microsomal antibodies were present, the prevalence of hypothyroidism after 10 years was 18% versus % in antibody-negative patients. In two studies, evaluating 48 and 45 patients 6 months after radioiodine therapy, hypothyroidism could not be documented in any of the patients (20, 21). In a more recent study by Bolusani et al. on 105 patients with solitary autonomous nodules, the cumulative incidence of hypothyroidism was 11% at 1 year, 33% at 5 years, and 49% at 10 years (22). The development of hypothyroidism was not associated with age, sex, radioiodine dose, radioiodine uptake, or degree of suppression of extranodal tissue on scintiscans. The predictors of occurrence of hypothyroidism were pretreatment with antithyroid medications and a positive thyroid antibody status. Antibody-positive patients showed an earlier progression towards hypothyroidism than did antibody-negative patients (22). In aggregate, these results suggest that longer follow-up periods may uncover hypothyroidism more frequently and that the development of hypothyroidism may often be related to the presence of thyroid autoantibodies, but less to the administered dose of 131iodine and nodule size. In patients treated with antithyroid drugs prior to radioiodine therapy, the increase in TSH may reactivate suppressed thyroid tissue and iodide uptake resulting in damage by 131iodine. Some clinicians administer levothyroxine for two weeks prior to therapy in order to assure that the tissue surrounding the toxic adenoma is suppressed. In some instances, high doses of 131iodine in the nodule may provide enough radiation to the surrounding tissue that its function is seriously damaged. It is noteworthy  that therapy with 131iodine may trigger the development of humoral thyroid autoantibodies (23). For example, about 5% of patients treated with 131iodine for toxic or euthyroid multinodular goiter develop stimulating TSH receptor antibodies and Graves’ disease (24). Hence, hypothyroidism may, in part, result from the development of humoral autoantibodies in patients with toxic adenomas treated with 131iodine. An alternative to surgery and 131iodine therapy for toxic adenomas consists in the use of percutaneous ethanol injection into the nodule under ultrasound guidance (11). The injection results in necrosis and thrombosis of small vessels. Side effects include local pain and, in rare cases, recurrent nerve damage. In studies evaluating the outcomes at 12 or 30 months, about 85% of patients were euthyroid (25, 26). Results of ethanol injection in relatively large AFTNs (diameter 3 to 4 cm) are also favorable, particularly in patients with subclinical hyperthyroidism (27, 28). Surpisingly, previous ethanol injection did not hinder histological assessment in 13 patients who ultimately underwent surgical excision of their nodule (29). Percutaneous laser thermal ablation (LTA) is a more recently introduced technique for the debulking of thyroid nodules and has also been used for the debulking of anaplastic thyroid cancer (30). In hyperfunctioning nodules, LTA induced a nearly 50% volume reduction with a variable frequency of normalization of thyroid-stimulating hormone levels (31, 32). Most patients become and remain euthyroid after treatment. However, serum TSH measurement at yearly intervals is necessary in order to detect those patients, especially with circulating thyroid autoantibodies, who will eventually develop hypothyroidism.


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