Clinical utility of genetic diagnosis for sporadic and hereditary medullary thyroid carcinoma

Ann Endocrinol (Paris). 2019 Jun;80(3):187-190. doi: 10.1016/j.ando.2019.04.014. Epub 2019 Apr 11.


Medullary thyroid cancer (MTC) is a rare thyroid tumor whose prevalence is 3-5% among all thyroid tumors. The pathogenesis of MTC is mainly related to germline or somatic RET activating point mutations that are causative of hereditary and sporadic cases, respectively. Hereditary MTC can occur as multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2A (MEN 2A), type 2B (MEN 2B) and familial MTC (FMTC) that differ for the association with other endocrine neoplasia. Germline RET point mutations are prevalently localized in exons 5, 8, 10-11, 13-16 and a significant genotype-phenotype correlation has been observed. RET genetic screening is mandatory in all patients with a diagnosis of MTC regardless from their apparent sporadic origin. The identification of RET germline mutation in an apparently sporadic case is of great clinical utility because it allows the identification of those subjects who will develop the tumor. RET positive relatives must undergo clinical and biochemical tests to verify if the MTC is already present and, according to the type of RET mutation, they have to be screened for the presence of pheochromocytoma and/or hyperparathyroidism. If a MTC is already present patients must be surgically treated. If MTC is not yet present subjects will be followed up with basal and stimulated calcitonin serum measurement, which is the serum marker of MTC. Indeed, RET negative subjects can be reassured that they do not run any risk to develop the disease as well as their children. In conclusions RET genetic screening allows the identification of the hereditary/sporadic nature of MTC and of a relevant percentage of hidden familial MTC. Furthermore, it favors the early diagnosis of MTC in RET positive subjects. RET positive patients and no clinical evidence of MTC can be followed and surgical treatment can be delayed. Finally RET negative relatives do not need to be further monitored.

Keywords: Genetic screening; Medullary thyroid carcinoma; Multiple endocrine neoplasia; RET.

MeSH terms

  • Calcitonin / blood
  • Carcinoma, Medullary / congenital*
  • Carcinoma, Medullary / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Medullary / surgery
  • Carcinoma, Neuroendocrine / genetics*
  • Carcinoma, Neuroendocrine / surgery
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Genetic Testing*
  • Germ-Line Mutation
  • Humans
  • Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia Type 2a / genetics*
  • Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia Type 2a / surgery
  • Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia Type 2b / genetics
  • Phenotype
  • Point Mutation
  • Prophylactic Surgical Procedures
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-ret / genetics
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / surgery
  • Thyroidectomy


  • Calcitonin
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-ret
  • RET protein, human

Supplementary concepts

  • Familial medullary thyroid carcinoma
  • Thyroid cancer, medullary