Molecular basis and targeted therapy in thyroid cancer: Progress and opportunities

Biochim Biophys Acta Rev Cancer. 2023 Jul;1878(4):188928. doi: 10.1016/j.bbcan.2023.188928. Epub 2023 May 29.


Thyroid cancer (TC) is the most prevalent endocrine malignant tumor. Surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and radioactive iodine (RAI) therapy are the standard TC treatment modalities. However, recurrence or tumor metastasis remains the main challenge in the management of anaplastic thyroid cancer (ATC) and radioiodine (RAI) radioactive iodine-refractory differentiated thyroid cancer (RR-DTC). Several multi-tyrosine kinase inhibitors (MKIs), or immune checkpoint inhibitors in combination with MKIs, have emerged as novel therapies for controlling the progression of DTC, medullary thyroid cancer (MTC), and ATC. Here, we discuss and summarize the molecular basis of TC, review molecularly targeted therapeutic drugs in clinical research, and explore potentially novel molecular therapeutic targets. We focused on the evaluation of current and recently emerging tyrosine kinase inhibitors approved for systemic therapy for TC, including lenvatinib, sorafenib and cabozantinib in DTC, vandetanib, cabozantinib, and RET-specific inhibitor (selpercatinib and pralsetinib) in MTC, combination dabrafenib with trametinib in ATC. In addition, we also discuss promising treatments that are in clinical trials and may be incorporated into clinical practice in the future, briefly describe the resistance mechanisms of targeted therapies, emphasizing that personalized medicine is critical to the design of second-line therapies.

Keywords: Immune checkpoint inhibitors; Multi-tyrosine kinase inhibitors; Thyroid cancer.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Anilides / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Iodine Radioisotopes / therapeutic use
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Thyroid Carcinoma, Anaplastic* / drug therapy
  • Thyroid Carcinoma, Anaplastic* / genetics
  • Thyroid Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • Thyroid Neoplasms* / genetics


  • cabozantinib
  • Iodine Radioisotopes
  • Anilides
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors

Supplementary concepts

  • Thyroid cancer, medullary