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JOURNAL ARTICLE
REVIEW

Juvenile differentiated thyroid carcinoma and the role of radioiodine in its treatment: a qualitative review

B Jarzab, D Handkiewicz-Junak, J Wloch
Endocrine-related Cancer 2005, 12 (4): 773-803
16322322
Well under 15% of differentiated thyroid carcinoma (DTC) is diagnosed at < or =18 years of age. The population is heterogenous and the differences between prepubertal children and pubertals and adolescents are to be considered. Although very little has been reported on children with sporadic DTC under the age of 10 years, juvenile DTC has at least some undeniable differences with adult DTC: (1) larger primary tumor at diagnosis; (2) metastatic pattern and features, namely: (a) greater prevalence of neck lymph node and distant metastases at diagnosis, (b) lungs almost the sole distant metastatic site, (c) pulmonary metastases nearly always functional; (3) closer-to-normal and more frequent sodium-iodide symporter (NIS) expression; and (4) higher recurrence rate but longer overall survival. These differences are especially distinct in prepubertal children. The goals of primary treatment of juvenile DTC are to eradicate disease and extend not only overall, but recurrence-free survival (RFS). Extending RFS is itself a desirable goal in children because it improves quality-of-life, alleviates anxiety during psychologically formative years, reduces medical resource consumption, and may increase overall survival. Primary treatment of DTC generally comprises a combination of surgery, radioiodine ((131)I) ablation, and thyroid hormone therapy applied at varying levels of intensity. Therapeutic decision-making must rely on retrospective adult and/or pediatric outcome studies and on treatment guidelines formulated mostly for adults. Differences between juvenile and adult DTC and physiology dictate distinct treatment strategies for children. We, and many others, advocate a routine intensive approach because of the more advanced disease at diagnosis, propensity for recurrence, and greater radioiodine responsiveness in children, as well as published evidence of significant survival benefits, especially regarding RFS. This intensive approach consists of total thyroidectomy and central lymphadenectomy in all cases, completed by modified lateral lymphadenectomy when necessary and followed by radioiodine administration. However, absence of prospective studies and of universal proof of overall cause-specific survival benefits of this approach have led some to propose more conservative strategies. Most European centers give radioiodine ablation to the vast majority of juvenile DTC patients. Ablation seeks to destroy any residual cancer, including microfoci, as well as healthy thyroid remnant. Large studies have documented the procedure to decrease cause-specific death rates and, in children, to significantly lessen locoregional recurrence rates (by factors of 2-11) independent of the extent of surgery. There is universal agreement on treating inoperable functional metastases with large radioiodine activities. Treatment is especially effective in small tumor foci up to 1 cm in diameter, and should be administered every 6-12 months until complete response, loss of functionality, or attainment of cumulative activities between 18.5-37 GBq (500-1000 mCi). Radioiodine therapy is generally safe. Short-term side effects include nausea and vomiting (more frequent in children than in adults), transient neck pain and edema, sialadenitis (<5% incidence), mild myelosuppression (approximately 25%), transient impairment of gonadal function both in females and males (sperm quality in boys), or nasolacrimal obstruction (approximately 3%), with most cases generally being asymptomatic-moderate, self-limiting, or easily prevented or treated. If pregnancy is ruled out before each (131)I administration, and conception avoided in the year afterward, radioiodine therapy appears not to impair fertility. However, therapeutic (131)I carries a small but definite increase in cancer risk, particularly in the salivary glands, colon, rectum, soft tissue and bone. To better guide primary treatment, different therapeutic combinations should be prospectively compared using RFS as the primary endpoint. Efforts also should be made to identify molecular signatures predicting recurrence, metastasis and mortality.

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