Medullary thyroid cancer (MTC) is a rare tumor arising from the calcitonin-producing parafollicular C cells of the thyroid gland, occurring either sporadically or alternatively in a hereditary form based on germline RET mutations in approximately one-third of cases. Historically, patients with advanced, metastasized MTC have had a poor prognosis, partly due to limited response to conventional chemotherapy and radiation therapy. In the past decade, however, considerable progress has been made in identifying key genetic alterations and dysregulated signaling pathways paving the way for the evaluation of a series of multitargeted kinase inhibitors that have started to meaningfully impact clinical practice. Two drugs, vandetanib and cabozantinib, are now approved in the US and EU for use in advanced, progressive MTC, with additional targeted agents also showing promise or awaiting results from clinical trials. However, the potential for toxicities with significant reduction in quality of life and lack of curative outcomes has to be carefully weighed against potential for benefit. Despite significant PFS prolongation observed in randomized clinical trials, most patients even with metastatic disease enjoy indolent courses with slow progression observed over years, wherein watchful waiting is still the preferred strategy. As advanced, progressive MTC is a rare and complex disease, a multidisciplinary approach centered in specialized centers providing interdisciplinary expertise in the individualization of available therapeutic options is preferred. In this review, we summarize current concepts of the molecular pathogenesis of advanced MTC and discuss results from clinical trials of targeted agents and also cytotoxic chemotherapy in the context of clinical implications and future perspectives.
Keywords: cytotoxic chemotherapy; medullary thyroid cancer; multitargeted kinase inhibitors; personalized therapy.
© 2016 Society for Endocrinology.