Background: Nonmedullary thyroid carcinomas (NMTCs) originate from the thyroid epithelial cells and, until recently, were thought to arise sporadically without an inherited genetic predisposition. However, evidence of a familial predisposition to NMTC is accumulating.
Methods: This review addresses the strengths, weaknesses, and clinical implications of the observations indicating an inherited genetic predisposition to NMTC. These observations include epidemiologic studies, descriptions of large kindreds, and genetic analyses.
Results: Familial NMTC (FNMTC) may be caused by an inherited genetic predisposition and can be divided into two groups. The first group has an increased prevalence of NMTC within a familial cancer syndrome with a preponderance of nonthyroidal tumors. In the second group the predominant neoplasm is NMTC, although other neoplasms may occur with increased frequency. These disorders are the focus of this review.
Conclusions: A family history in NMTC patients should be directed at detecting those familial tumor syndromes with a preponderance of NMTC as well as those familial tumor syndromes enriched in NMTC but with a preponderance of nonthyroidal tumors. Since the recurrence rates may be greater in FNMTC than in sporadic NMTC, careful monitoring is indicated for affected individuals. The advantages and disadvantages of screening asymptomatic members of FNMTC kindreds with thyroid ultrasound are discussed, and the final decision is deferred to the treating physicians and their patients. It is hoped that positional cloning research will identify the FNMTC susceptibility genes.