Update on C-Cell Neuroendocrine Neoplasm: Prognostic and Predictive Histopathologic and Molecular Features of Medullary Thyroid Carcinoma

Endocr Pathol. 2023 Mar;34(1):1-22. doi: 10.1007/s12022-023-09753-5. Epub 2023 Mar 8.


Medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC) is a C-cell-derived epithelial neuroendocrine neoplasm. With the exception of rare examples, most are well-differentiated epithelial neuroendocrine neoplasms (also known as neuroendocrine tumors in the taxonomy of the International Agency for Research on Cancer [IARC] of the World Health Organization [WHO]). This review provides an overview and recent evidence-based data on the molecular genetics, disease risk stratification based on clinicopathologic variables including molecular profiling and histopathologic variables, and targeted molecular therapies in patients with advanced MTC. While MTC is not the only neuroendocrine neoplasm in the thyroid gland, other neuroendocrine neoplasms in the thyroid include intrathyroidal thymic neuroendocrine neoplasms, intrathyroidal parathyroid neoplasms, and primary thyroid paragangliomas as well as metastatic neuroendocrine neoplasms. Therefore, the first responsibility of a pathologist is to distinguish MTC from other mimics using appropriate biomarkers. The second responsibility includes meticulous assessment of the status of angioinvasion (defined as tumor cells invading through a vessel wall and forming tumor-fibrin complexes, or intravascular tumor cells admixed with fibrin/thrombus), tumor necrosis, proliferative rate (mitotic count and Ki67 labeling index), and tumor grade (low- or high-grade) along with the tumor stage and the resection margins. Given the morphologic and proliferative heterogeneity in these neoplasms, an exhaustive sampling is strongly recommended. Routine molecular testing for pathogenic germline RET variants is typically performed in all patients with a diagnosis of MTC; however, multifocal C-cell hyperplasia in association with at least a single focus of MTC and/or multifocal C-cell neoplasia are morphological harbingers of germline RET alterations. It is of interest to assess the status of pathogenic molecular alterations involving genes other than RET like the MET variants in MTC families with no pathogenic germline RET variants. Furthermore, the status of somatic RET alterations should be determined in all advanced/progressive or metastatic diseases, especially when selective RET inhibitor therapy (e.g., selpercatinib or pralsetinib) is considered. While the role of routine SSTR2/5 immunohistochemistry remains to be further clarified, evidence suggests that patients with somatostatin receptor (SSTR)-avid metastatic disease may also benefit from the option of 177Lu-DOTATATE peptide radionuclide receptor therapy. Finally, the authors of this review make a call to support the nomenclature change of MTC to C-cell neuroendocrine neoplasm to align this entity with the IARC/WHO taxonomy since MTCs represent epithelial neuroendocrine neoplasms of endoderm-derived C-cells.

Keywords: Biomarkers; C-cell neuroendocrine neoplasm; C-cells; Epigenetics; Genetics; Medullary thyroid carcinoma; Neuroendocrine neoplasm; Protein kinase inhibitors; RET inhibitors; Risk assessment; Thyroid cancer; Thyroid neoplasms.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Neuroendocrine* / diagnosis
  • Carcinoma, Neuroendocrine* / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Neuroendocrine* / pathology
  • Humans
  • Neuroendocrine Tumors* / diagnosis
  • Neuroendocrine Tumors* / genetics
  • Prognosis
  • Thyroid Neoplasms* / diagnosis
  • Thyroid Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Thyroid Neoplasms* / pathology

Supplementary concepts

  • Thyroid cancer, medullary