Long-Term Follow-up in Medullary Thyroid Carcinoma

Friedhelm Raue, Karin Frank-Raue
Recent Results in Cancer Research 2015, 204: 207-25
After surgery, patients with medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC) should be assessed regarding the presence of residual disease, the localization of metastases, and the identification of progressive disease. Postoperatively, patients with MTC are staged to separate those at low risk from those at high risk of recurrence. The TNM staging system is based on tumor size, extra-thyroidal invasion, nodal metastasis, and distant spread of cancer. In addition, the number of lymph-node metastases, the number of compartments involved, and the postoperative calcitonin (CTN) and carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) levels should be documented. The postoperative normalization of the serum CTN level is associated with a favorable outcome. When patients have basal serum CTN levels less than 150 pg/ml after a thyroidectomy, any persistent or recurrent disease is nearly always confined to lymph nodes in the neck. When the postoperative serum CTN level exceeds 150 pg/ml, patients should be evaluated with imaging procedures, including computed tomography (CT) of the neck and chest, contrast-enhanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and ultrasound (US) of the liver, bone scintigraphy, MRI of the bone, and positron emission tomography (PET)/CT. One can estimate the growth rate of MTC metastases by quantifying increases in tumor size over time from sequential imaging studies analyzed with response evaluation criteria in solid tumors (RECIST), and by determining the tumor marker doubling time from sequential measures of serum CTN or CEA levels over multiple time points. One of the main challenges remains to find effective adjuvant and palliative options for patients with metastatic disease. Patients with persistent or recurrent MTC localized to the neck following thyroidectomy are candidates for neck operations, depending on the tumor extension. Once metastases appear, the clinician must decide which patients require therapy. This requires a balance between the (often) slow rate of tumor progression, which is associated with a good quality of life, and the limited efficacy and potential toxicities of local and systemic therapies. Considering that metastatic MTC is incurable, the management goals are to provide loco-regional disease control, palliate symptoms of hormonal excess, such as diarrhea, palliate symptomatic metastases, like pain or bone fracture, and control metastases that threaten life, such as bronchial obstruction or spinal cord compression. This can be achieved with palliative surgery, external beam radiation therapy (EBRT), or systemic therapy with tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI).

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