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Alexa Clark, Marosh Manduch, Russell Hollins and Sara Awad

Summary

We report a case of metastatic papillary thyroid carcinoma presenting with a recurrent right-sided cervical lymph node necrotic cyst. A 55-year-old woman presented with a 3-month history of a right-sided upper neck mass following an upper respiratory tract infection. Past medical history includes a right-sided nephrectomy secondary to a benign renal tumor and hypertension. She was evaluated by Otolaryngology, and fine-needle aspiration was performed. The mass recurred 2 months following aspiration. Ultrasound of the neck showed a 2.2 × 1.4 × 1.9 cm right cervical lymph node with a small fatty hilum but a thickened cortex. Neck computed tomography (CT) scan showed a well-defined 2.3 cm mass in the right upper neck corresponding to a necrotic cervical lymph node at level IIA. It also revealed a 7 mm calcified left thyroid nodule. Cytology revealed a moderate collection of murky fluid with mildly atypical cells presumed to be reactive given the clinical history of infection. The cyst had re-grown 2 months following aspiration. Excisional biopsy was performed and revealed metastatic classic papillary thyroid carcinoma (PTC). Subsequently, a total thyroidectomy and right neck dissection was performed. Pathology confirmed metastatic unifocal classic PTC of the right thyroid lobe and two lymph node metastases out of a total of 17 resected lymph nodes. The patient underwent radioactive iodine ablation. Subsequent I-131 radioiodine whole-body scan showed no evidence of metastases. In conclusion, metastatic PTC should be considered in the differential diagnosis of a recurrent solitary cystic cervical lymph node.

Learning points:

  • Metastatic PTC should be considered in the differential diagnosis of a recurrent solitary cystic cervical lymph node.

  • A dedicated thyroid ultrasound is the preferred modality for identifying thyroid lesion over computed tomography.

  • There is a risk of non-diagnostic cytology following FNA for cystic neck lesions, largely predicted by the cyst content of the nodule.