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Prophylactic thyroidectomy for medullary thyroid carcinoma in gene carriers of MEN2 syndrome.

BACKGROUND/PURPOSE: Although medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC) can occur sporadically, in the pediatric population it is most often associated with the multiple endocrine neoplasia syndrome (MEN type 2). Traditional screening was based on evaluation of basal and stimulated serum calcitonin levels. The recent cloning of the MEN2 gene on the RET proto-oncogene of chromosome 10 now allows for testing of gene carrier status in individuals at risk who could benefit from prophylactic treatment. The current study was undertaken to determine the appropriate age for safe total prophylactic thyroidectomy.

METHODS: Over a 16-year period, 12 patients with a family history of MEN2A and one with a MEN2B underwent total thyroidectomy and central neck dissection without parathyroid autotransplantation. Four patients (31%) were treated previously for Hirschsprung's disease.

RESULTS: In seven patients (mean age, 11.8 years) undergoing biochemical screening for diagnosis, multifocal MTC and C cell hyperplasia (CCH) were found in all the resected specimens. Of six patients identified with genetic screening (mean age, 9.1 years), two had elevated stimulated calcitonin levels, one (age 14) had evidence of MTC, and one (age 6) had CCH. Four patients with normal calcitonin levels had no evidence of MTC (ages 6, 8, 10) but there was one occurrence of CCH (age 11). No permanent postoperative hypoparathyroidism or recurrent laryngeal nerve damage occurred in this series. With a mean follow-up of 4 years (range, 1 to 14 years), the overall disease-free survival is 100%.

CONCLUSIONS: From this study the authors conclude that total thyroidectomy can be performed safely in children and should be the treatment of choice in patients with a family history of MEN2A carrying a germinal RET mutation even if the serum basal or stimulated serum calcitonin level is normal. Total thyroidectomy should be performed as early as 5 years of age before the occurrence of CCH or MTC.

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