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Endocr Relat Cancer. 2002 Dec;9(4):227-47.

Management of papillary and follicular (differentiated) thyroid cancer: new paradigms using recombinant human thyrotropin.

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  • 1Adjunct Professor of Medicine, University of Florida, USA.


The incidence of differentiated thyroid cancer (DTC) has increased in many places around the world over the past three decades, yet this has been associated with a significant decrease in DTC mortality rates in some countries. While the best 10-year DTC survival rates are about 90%, long-term relapse rates remain high, in the order of 20-40%, depending upon the patient's age and tumor stage at the time of initial treatment. About 80% of patients appear to be rendered disease-free by initial treatment, but the others have persistent tumor, sometimes found decades later. Optimal treatment for tumors that are likely to relapse or cause death is total thyroidectomy and ablation by iodine-131 ((131)I), followed by long-term levothyroxine suppression of thyrotropin (TSH). On the basis of regression modeling of 1510 patients without distant metastases at the time of initial treatment and including surgical and (131)I treatment, the likelihood of death from DTC is increased by several factors, including age >45 years, tumor size >1.0 cm, local tumor invasion or regional lymph-node metastases, follicular histology, and delay of treatment >12 months. Cancer mortality is favorably and independently affected by female sex, total or near-total thyroidectomy, (131)I treatment and levothyroxine suppression of TSH. Treatments with (131)I to ablate thyroid remnants and residual disease are independent prognostic variables favorably influencing distant tumor relapse and cancer death rates. Delay in treatment of persistent disease has a profound impact on outcome. Optimal long-term follow-up using serum thyroglobulin (Tg) measurements and diagnostic whole-body scans (DxWBS) require high concentrations of TSH, which until recently were possible to achieve only by withdrawing levothyroxine treatment, producing symptomatic hypothyroidism. New paradigms, however, provide alternative pathways to prepare patients for (131)I treatment and to optimize follow-up. Patients with undetectable or low Tg concentrations and persistent occult disease can now be identified within the first year after initial treatment by recombinant human (rh)TSH-stimulated serum Tg concentrations greater than 2 microg/l, without performing DxWBS. These new follow-up paradigms promptly identify patients with lung metastases that are not evident on routine imaging, but which respond to (131)I treatment. In addition, rhTSH can be given to prepare patients for (131)I remnant ablation or (131)I treatment for metastases, especially those who are unable to withstand hypothyroidism because of concurrent illness or advanced age, or whose hypothyroid TSH fails to increase.

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