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Minerva Endocrinologica 2004 December;29(4):161-74


language: English, Italian

Follow-up of differentiated thyroid carcinoma

Pagano L., Klain M., Pulcrano M., Angellotti G., Fasano F., Salvatore M., Lombardi G., Biondi B.


Thyroid cancer is the most common endocrine malignancy. More than 90% of primary thyroid cancers are differentiated papillary or follicular types. The treatment of differentiated thyroid carcinoma (DTC) consists of total thyroidectomy and radioactive iodine ablation therapy, followed by L-thyroxine therapy. The extent of initial surgery, the indication for radioiodine ablation therapy and the degree of TSH-suppression are all issues that are still being debated in relation to the risk of recurrence. Total thyroidectomy reduces the risk of recurrence and facilitates 131I ablation of thyroid remnants. The aim of radioiodine ablation is to destroy any normal or neoplastic residuals of thyroid tissue. These procedures also improve the sensitivity of thyroglobulin (Tg) as a marker of disease, and increase the sensitivity of 131I total body scan (TBS) for the detection of persistent or recurrent disease. The aim of TSH-suppressive therapy is to restore euthyroidism and to decrease serum TSH levels, in order to reduce the growth and progression of thyroid cancer. After initial treatment, the objectives of the follow-up of DTC is to maintain adequate thyroxine therapy and to detect persistent or recurrent disease through the combined use of neck ultrasound (US) and serum Tg and 131I TBS after TSH stimulation. The follow-up protocol should be adapted to the risk of recurrence. Recent advances in the follow-up of DTC are related to the use of recombinant human TSH (rhTSH) in order to stimulate Tg production and the ultrasensitive methods for Tg measurement. Undetectable serum Tg during TSH suppressive therapy with L-T4 does not exclude persistent disease, therefore serum Tg should be measured after TSH stimulation. The results of rhTSH administration and L-thyroxine therapy withdrawal are equivalent in detecting recurrent thyroid cancer, but the use of rhTSH helps to avoid the onset of hypothyroid symptoms and the negative effects of acute hypothyroidism on cardiovascular, hepatic, renal and neurological function. In low-risk DTC patients serum Tg after TSH stimulation, together with ultrasound of the neck, should be used to monitor persistent disease, avoiding diagnostic TBS which has a poor sensitivity. These recommendations do not apply when Tg antibodies are present in the serum, in patients with persistent or recurrent disease or limited thyroid surgery. Low-risk patients may be considered to be in remission when undetectable Tg after TSH stimulation and negative US evaluation of the neck are present. On the contrary, detectable Tg after TSH stimulation is an indicator in selecting patients who are candidates for further diagnostic procedures.

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