An article published recently in Cap Today Online, a publication of the College of American Pathologists, has opined that most patients who have already been treated for the type of thyroid cancer (noninvasive encapsulated follicular variant) need not be informed that their “cancer” has been reclassified.
The authors, Paul N. Staats, MD and Benjamin L. Witt, MD, write (responding to a hypothetical question) in their article entitled “Cytopathology in Focus: The Significance of NIFTP for Thyroid Cytology“:
Should I go back and reclassify all my old thyroid surgical pathology diagnoses?
Probably not. As most patients will have already received definitive treatment of their NIFTP, reclassification is unlikely to have an impact on their management going forward. For patients very recently diagnosed as noninvasive follicular variant PTC, discussion with the treating physicians about reclassification and management options for the patient may be appropriate. Our opinion is that patients were accurately diagnosed within the constructs of the time and that applying new or novel principles to prior diagnoses is not a worthwhile endeavor.
This opinion would appear to be in conflict with that of other authors. For example, an article published last year in Thyroid, advises physicians to retroactively inform such patients that their diagnosis has changed when possible. See a summary of this article here.
As noted in that post, In the opinion of the Mt. Sinai team who wrote in Thyroid, pathologists are ethically obligated to review cases and contact patients about a change in diagnosis. The justification for the widespread adoption of this policy is that a cancer diagnosis causes “clinically significant” stress and also creates financial burdens for patients. Perhaps most important of all is the primacy of a patient’s basic legal right to information about their own condition.