Relationship between tumor burden and serum thyroglobulin level in patients with papillary and follicular thyroid carcinoma

Anne Bachelot, Anne Françoise Cailleux, Michele Klain, Eric Baudin, Marcel Ricard, Nicolas Bellon, Bernard Caillou, Jean Paul Travagli, Martin Schlumberger
Thyroid: Official Journal of the American Thyroid Association 2002, 12 (8): 707-11
Serum thyroglobulin (Tg) is a reliable marker for detecting recurrent and persistent disease during the follow-up of patients with papillary and follicular thyroid carcinoma. The goal of this study was to assess the relationship between the serum Tg level measured after thyroid hormone withdrawal and the tumor mass in thyroid cancer patients who underwent surgery with the use of an intraoperative probe for lymph node metastases with (131)I uptake. Patients were classified into one of three groups according to the Tg level: undetectable (n = 18); 1-10 ng/mL (n = 21); and greater than 10 ng/mL (n = 33). The main clinical characteristics and the extent of the disease at the time of initial treatment were similar in these three groups. Lymph node metastases were found in 13 of the 18 patients with undetectable Tg level. Eight patients had persistent foci of uptake after surgery that were located behind the sterno-clavicular joint in six patients. The number of metastatic lymph nodes and their total surface (in mm(2)) or their total volume (in mm(3)) were significantly linked with serum Tg/thyrotropin [TSH] level (p = 0.002 and p < 0.0001, respectively). For a given metastatic surface or volume, the serum Tg/TSH value was no longer linked with the number of metastatic lymph nodes (p = 0.32), suggesting that the total surface or total volume is the characteristic that best summarizes the influence of the disease on the serum Tg/TSH level. In conclusion, patients with higher serum Tg levels tend to have more extensive disease and should undergo more aggressive treatment modalities. Nevertheless, undetectable serum Tg should not be considered as a reliable criteria to exclude a minimal tumor burden in patients who have already been treated with (131)I.

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