The role of radionuclide therapy in medullary thyroid cancer

Tumori. 2003 Sep-Oct;89(5):560-2. doi: 10.1177/030089160308900523.


In medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC) the detection of occult metastases is difficult and the prognosis of widespread disease is poor. In recent years several radiopharmaceuticals have become available for the diagnosis of this tumor. None of these tracers, however, has satisfactory diagnostic sensitivity and specificity. Furthermore, only few radiopharmaceutical compounds proved to have clinical value in therapeutic applications. Radionuclide therapy utilizes unsealed radioactive sources in order to deliver selective irradiation to the target organs or cancer lesions. This approach is only clinically indicated when there is a scintigraphic evidence of sufficient tumor uptake and a favorable biodistribution. When these conditions are present, radionuclide therapy can be adopted in MTC patients. Due to the low incidence of this tumor, the poor sensitivity of the available radiopharmaceuticals and their limited indications, the clinical experience in radionuclide therapy of MTC is still limited and there is general agreement among experts that it has only a palliative role. Here we briefly report the main experiences in radionuclide therapy in the past and in recent years. In addition, we summarize the results obtained with 131I-MIBG therapy at the Istituto Nazionale Tumori of Milan, as well as the most important ongoing preclinical and phase I/II trials.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • 3-Iodobenzylguanidine / therapeutic use
  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / therapeutic use
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Carcinoembryonic Antigen / immunology
  • Carcinoma, Medullary / diagnostic imaging*
  • Carcinoma, Medullary / therapy*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Humans
  • Octreotide / therapeutic use
  • Peptides, Cyclic / therapeutic use
  • Radionuclide Imaging
  • Radiopharmaceuticals / therapeutic use
  • Somatostatin / analogs & derivatives*
  • Somatostatin / therapeutic use
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging*
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / therapy*


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Carcinoembryonic Antigen
  • Peptides, Cyclic
  • Radiopharmaceuticals
  • lanreotide
  • 3-Iodobenzylguanidine
  • Somatostatin
  • Octreotide