Diagnostic utility of galectin-3 in thyroid cancer

Am J Pathol. 2010 May;176(5):2067-81. doi: 10.2353/ajpath.2010.090353. Epub 2010 Apr 2.


Galectin-3 (Gal-3), which has received significant recent attention for its utility as a diagnostic marker for thyroid cancer, represents the most well-studied molecular candidate for thyroid cancer diagnosis. Gal-3 is a protein that binds to beta-galactosidase residues on cell surface glycoproteins and has also been identified in the cytoplasmic and nuclear compartment. This marker has been implicated in regulation of normal cellular proliferation and apoptosis, as well as malignant transformation and the metastasis of cancer cells. We here present a mechanistic review of Gal-3 and its role in cancer development and progression. Gal-3 expression studies in thyroid tissue and cytologic tumor specimens and their methodological considerations are also discussed in this article. Despite great variance in their methodology, the majority of immunohistochemical studies found that Gal-3 was differentially expressed in thyroid carcinoma compared with benign and normal thyroid specimens, suggesting that Gal-3 is a good diagnostic marker for thyroid cancer. Recent studies have also demonstrated improved methodological reliability. On the other hand, Gal-3 genomic expression studies have shown inconsistent results for diagnostic utility and are not recommended. Overall, the development of Gal-3 as a diagnostic marker for thyroid cancer represents a promising avenue for future study, and its clinical application could significantly reduce the number of diagnostic thyroid operations performed for cases of indeterminant fine needle aspiration biopsy cytology, and thus positively impact the current management of thyroid nodular disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis
  • Biopsy
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic
  • Cytoplasm / metabolism
  • Galectin 3 / biosynthesis*
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic*
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry / methods
  • Medical Oncology / methods
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • beta-Galactosidase / metabolism


  • Galectin 3
  • beta-Galactosidase