Diagnosis and management of medullary thyroid carcinoma

Clin Lab Med. 2004 Mar;24(1):49-83. doi: 10.1016/j.cll.2004.01.006.


Successful treatment of MTC depends heavily on early diagnosis and treatment. Often, this is not possible for sporadic MTC; however, genetic testing for hereditary MTC makes this possible if genetic carriers have surgery before C cells undergo malignant transformation. All patients who have MTC should be tested for RET mutations, including putative sporadic cases. The leukocytes of suspected carriers and sporadic MTC cases should be tested for MEN2-associated germ-line mutations by polymerase chain reaction amplification of the appropriate RET gene exons, including 10, 11,13, 14, 15, and 16 (see Table I). When a RET mutation is found, all first-degree relatives must be screened to determine which individuals carry the gene. If these exons are negative, the other 15 should be sequenced because a small risk of hereditary MTC remains if no germ-line mutation is found. The probability that a first-degree relative will inherit an autosomal dominant gene for MTC from an individual who has sporadic MTC in whom no germ-line mutation is found is 0.18% . Patients who have MEN2B or RET codon 883 or 918 mutation should have a total thyroidectomy within the first 6 months of life, preferably within the first month of life. Patients who have 634 mutations, which account for approximately 70% of all MTC mutations, should undergo thyroidectomy by age 5 years. The recommendations for the timing of prophylactic thyroidectomy are not consistent for the less common mutations (see Table 2). There is a balance between performing prophylactic thyroidectomy earlier than at the youngest age at with MTC has been reported to occur for a specific RET mutation (see Fig. 3 and Table 2) and the complications of thyroidectomy, including permanent hypoparathyroidism and laryngeal nerve damage. Preoperative measurement of plasma free metanephrine and neck ultrasonography always should be done if the diagnosis of MTC is known preoperatively. Initial treatment of MTC is total thyroidectomy, regardless of its genetic type or putative sporadic nature, because surgery offers the only chance for a cure. Treatment with 1311 has no place in the management of MTC. Plasma CT measurements provide an accurate estimate of tumor burden and are especially useful in identifying patients who have residual tumor. Pentagastrin- or calcium-stimulated plasma CT testing is useful in identifying CCH or early MTC in carriers of RET mutations that are associated with late onset MTC. Pheochromocytoma may occur before or after MTC and is an important cause of mortality, even in young patients. HPT is an important aspect of MEN2A and requires surgery according to current guidelines for the management of primary HPT. Early thyroidectomy and appropriate management of pheochromocytoma clearly have modified the course of this disease, but more research is necessary in kindreds who have rare MTC mutations. Moreover, new treatments for widespread MTC are necessary because current chemotherapy agents offer little benefit. New drugs that lock the action of tyrosine kinase offer some hope.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Medullary / diagnosis*
  • Carcinoma, Medullary / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / therapy*