The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends against screening asymptomatic adults for thyroid cancer, because the harms of such screening outweigh the benefits, according to a recommendation statement published May 9 in JAMA.

The USPSTF makes recommendations about the effectiveness of specific health care services for patients who don’t have related signs or symptoms. In this case, the recommendation statement addresses screening of adults who have no signs or symptoms of thyroid cancer by using neck palpation or ultrasonography, said Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, MD, PhD , chair of the organization and lead author of the recommendation statement, and her associates (JAMA. 2017 May 9;317[18]:1882-7).

This document is an update of the previous USPSTF recommendation statement issued in 1996 and was undertaken because there have been several major advances related to the disease since that time.

However, despite a comprehensive review of the current literature, the group found no direct evidence supporting a change to their original advice against such screening.

They emphasized that this applies only to asymptomatic adults, not to those who have hoarseness, throat pain, difficulty swallowing, lumps in the neck, swelling, or asymmetry of the neck; nor to those who have a history of exposure to ionizing radiation, a family history of thyroid cancer, or a genetic susceptibility to the disease.

The results of the literature review were summarized in an evidence report by Jennifer S. Lin, MD , of Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research, Portland, Ore., and her associates. They examined 67 studies involving nearly 584,000 patients, including 10 studies that addressed screening test performance, 3 that addressed the possible harms of screening, 2 that addressed treatment benefits, and 52 that addressed treatment harms.

No good-quality studies assessed the net benefit of thyroid cancer screening, nor whether “early” treatment of screen-detected cancers improved patient outcomes. However, the preponderance of evidence suggested that most thyroid cancers detected by screening are indolent.

So, treatment is likely unnecessary but exposes patients to “nontrivial” harms, including an increased risk of second primary malignancy, permanent adverse effects on the salivary glands, laryngeal nerve injury, hypoparathyroidism, and the need for lifelong thyroid replacement therapy and monitoring for cancer recurrence, Dr. Lin and her associates said in their evidence report (JAMA. 2017 May 9;317[18]:1888-1903).

The task force noted that no professional medical society currently recommends population-based screening for thyroid cancer. The American Cancer Society, American Thyroid Association, American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, and American College of Endocrinology all have no specific recommendations for screening asymptomatic patients, while the American Academy of Family Physicians recommends against such screening, said Dr. Bibbins-Domingo, who is also a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and her associates.

Further information regarding the recommendation statement and the evidence report is available at .

The USPSTF is an independent voluntary group supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The authors’ conflict of interest disclosures are available at