Current Concepts in the Molecular Genetics and Management of Thyroid Cancer: An Update for Radiologists

Radiographics. 2016 Sep-Oct;36(5):1478-93. doi: 10.1148/rg.2016150206.


Substantial improvement in the understanding of the oncogenic pathways in thyroid cancer has led to identification of specific molecular alterations, including mutations of BRAF and RET in papillary thyroid cancer, mutation of RAS and rearrangement of PPARG in follicular thyroid cancer, mutation of RET in medullary thyroid cancer, and mutations of TP53 and in the phosphatidylinositol 3'-kinase (PI3K)/AKT1 pathway in anaplastic thyroid cancer. Ultrasonography (US) and US-guided biopsy remain cornerstones in the initial workup of thyroid cancer. Surgery is the mainstay of treatment, with radioactive iodine (RAI) therapy reserved for differentiated subtypes. Posttreatment surveillance of thyroid cancer is done with US of the thyroid bed as well as monitoring of tumor markers such as serum thyroglobulin and serum calcitonin. Computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging, and fluorine 18 fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography/CT are used in the follow-up of patients with negative iodine 131 imaging and elevated tumor markers. Certain mutations, such as mutations of BRAF in papillary thyroid carcinoma and mutations in RET codons 883, 918, and 928, are associated with an aggressive course in medullary thyroid carcinoma, and affected patients need close surveillance. Treatment options for metastatic RAI-refractory thyroid cancer are limited. Currently, Food and Drug Administration-approved molecularly targeted therapies for metastatic RAI-refractory thyroid cancer, including sorafenib, lenvatinib, vandetanib, and cabozantinib, target the vascular endothelial growth factor receptor and RET kinases. Imaging plays an important role in assessment of response to these therapies, which can be atypical owing to antiangiogenic effects. A wide spectrum of toxic effects is associated with the molecularly targeted therapies used in thyroid cancer and can be detected at restaging scans. (©)RSNA, 2016.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diagnostic Imaging*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy*
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging*
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / therapy*