Defects in iodide metabolism in thyroid cancer and implications for the follow-up and treatment of patients

Nat Clin Pract Endocrinol Metab. 2007 Mar;3(3):260-9. doi: 10.1038/ncpendmet0449.


The two major steps of iodine metabolism--uptake and organification--are altered in thyroid cancer tissues. Organification defects result in a rapid discharge of radioiodine from thyroid cells, a short effective half-life of iodine, and a low rate of thyroid hormone synthesis. These defects are mainly due to decreased expression of functional genes encoding the sodium-iodide symporter and thyroid peroxidase and could result in a low radiation dose to thyroid cancer cells. TSH stimulation that is achieved with injections of recombinant human TSH, or long-term withdrawal of thyroid hormone treatment increases iodine-131 uptake in two-thirds of patients with metastatic disease and increases thyroglobulin production in all patients with metastases, even in the absence of detectable uptake. Serum thyroglobulin determination obtained following TSH stimulation and neck ultrasonography is the most sensitive combination for the detection of small tumor foci. Radioiodine treatment is effective when a high radiation dose can be delivered (in patients with high uptake and retention of radioiodine) and when tumor foci are sensitive to the effects of radiation therapy (younger patients, with a well-differentiated tumor and/or with small metastases). The other patients rarely respond to radioiodine treatment, and when progression occurs, other treatment modalities should be considered. Novel strategies are currently being explored to restore iodine uptake in cancer cells that are unable to concentrate radioiodine.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma, Follicular / diagnosis
  • Carcinoma, Papillary / diagnosis
  • Carcinoma, Papillary / metabolism*
  • Carcinoma, Papillary / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Iodides / metabolism*
  • Iodine Radioisotopes / therapeutic use
  • Models, Biological
  • Thyroid Gland / metabolism
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / therapy*


  • Iodides
  • Iodine Radioisotopes