Thyroid Factor

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DTC is the most commonly encountered thyroid cancer in childhood, with PTC representing about 80% and FTC being roughly 20% of malignancies that arise from the follicular epithelium [5, 10, 11]. The diagnosis of PTC and FTC is based upon unique histopatho-logical features, and there are subtypes of each, includ-

Figure 16.2

Relative prevalence of thyroid cancer among males and females (shown as the ratio of females to males as a function of age at diagnosis). United States SEER 1975-2000 [1]

Figure 16.3

Incidence of thyroid cancer in the United States as a function of race/ethnicity. United States SEER 1975-2000 [1]

ing follicular cell, tall cell, diffuse sclerosing, columnar cell, and encapsulated variants in PTC. Variants of FTC include Hurthle-cell (oncocytic), clear cell, and insular carcinoma. Certain tumor subtypes, such as the follicular and diffuse sclerosing variants of PTC, are more common in children and young adults as compared to older individuals [12]. Furthermore, as compared to the classical type found in older individuals, childhood PTC, particularly in patients less than 10 years of age: (1) may be unencapsulated and widely invasive throughout the gland and (2) may have a follicular and solid architecture with unique nuclear features and abundant psammoma bodies [5, 7].

Despite the fact that PTC and FTC are both derived from the follicular epithelium and are treated in a similar fashion, there are some key differences in clinical behavior, specifically the risk and pattern of metastases. PTC is more likely to metastasize through lymphatic channels to regional neck lymph nodes. Hema-togenous metastases, primarily to the lung, occur less frequently and typically only when locally metastatic disease is also present. FTC, on the other hand, is more prone to hematogenous metastases (affecting predominantly the lungs and bones); they metastasize less often to regional lymph nodes. Furthermore, PTC is more likely to be multifocal and bilateral [13]; FTC, in contrast, is usually a unifocal tumor.

The major established environmental risk factor for the development of benign and malignant thyroid neoplasms, particularly PTC, is radiation exposure to the head and neck [14, 15]. Children, particularly those less than age 5 years, are much more sensitive to the tumorigenic effects of irradiation [4, 15]; this may in part be due to the higher rate of thyroid cell replication in children as compared to adults [12, 16, 17]. Since children are no longer treated with radiation for benign conditions, such as thymic enlargement, ton-sillar hypertrophy, or acne, there are now fewer thyroid cancer patients with this well-established risk factor; however, the use of external-beam radiotherapy to treat malignancies (especially Hodgkin disease) remains a significant risk for the development of thyroid carcinoma, even many years after therapy is complete [18]. Although there are some conflicting data, it appears that cases of radiation-induced thyroid carcinoma are not significantly different in clinical behavior as compared to sporadic non-radiation-induced tumors [18, 19].

Internal ionizing radiation, such as that which occurred with the large environmental exposure to radioactive iodine from the Chernobyl nuclear accident, is another well-documented risk for the development of PTC, particularly in children less than 10 years of age at the time of exposure [20, 21]. Recent evidence suggests that the thyroid gland in younger children is better equipped to transport iodine as compared to older children [17]. Assuming that the mean radiation exposure per gram of thyroid tissue is inversely related to the age of the individual at exposure, it would make sense why the youngest children are most at risk for developing PTC after accidents such as Chernobyl. Fortunately, the doses of radioactive iodine used in diagnostic studies and the treatment of hyperthyroid-ism appear to be below the threshold needed for tumorigenesis [14].

Researchers are beginning to unravel the molecular and genetic basis of the differentiated thyroid carcinomas. One of the major early somatic events that is associated with the development of papillary thyroid carcinoma is a chromosomal rearrangement linking the promoter region of an unrelated gene(s) (named PTC) to the carboxyl terminus of the RET (rearranged during transfection) proto-oncogene [12, 16, 21]. This occurs either because of a simple inversion of a segment of chromosome 10 (where RET resides) or a translocation of RET to a different chromosome. The RET/PTC rearrangement produces a chimeric oncogene, resulting in a constitutively activated form of the RET receptor tyrosine kinase (i.e., activation in the absence of ligand), thereby promoting tumorigenesis. Although it is believed that RET/PTC rearrangements may be critical for the development of pediatric and radiation-induced PTC [22-28], some recent reports have challenged these conclusions [29].

Other important genes and gene products implicated in thyroid tumorigenesis and biological behavior include RAS and B-RAF (important for intracellular signaling pathways; B-RAF is implicated in PTC only), rearrangement of the TRK proto-oncogene (akin to RET, but found in only a minority of PTCs), MET overexpression (mostly in PTCs), the p53 tumor suppressor gene (specifically involved in anaplastic thyroid cancer), and Pax8-PPARy1 translocations (follic-ular adenomas and follicular thyroid carcinomas only) [12, 16, 30, 31].

Approximately 3-5% of patients with PTC have a family history of the disease [12, 32]. Having a positive family history may portend a worse prognosis, given that these cases appear to have more aggressive disease and shorter disease-free intervals after initial treat ment [32, 33]. As of yet, the genetic basis for domi-nantly inherited non-MTC has not been elucidated. Other familial tumor syndromes in which there is an increased risk of DTC include familial adenomatous polyposis (Gardner syndrome), Cowden disease, and the Carney complex [12].

16.3.3 Diagnosis and Clinical Presentation

In childhood, DTC usually presents as an asymptomatic neck mass [34, 35]. Occasionally, the diagnosis may be made incidentally after the discovery of pulmonary nodules on a chest radiograph. In any individual younger than 20 years of age presenting with a solitary thyroid nodule, there is a higher likelihood of malignancy [10, 36]. The overall prevalence of thyroid carcinoma is about 20-25% of thyroid nodules in children, compared to 5% in adults [10, 12, 37, 38]. Symptomatic thyroid cancers (i.e., those associated with hoarseness, dysphagia, or cough, thus suggesting more locally advanced disease) are rare in young individuals. Uncommonly, thyroid carcinoma arises ectopically in a thyroglossal duct remnant or cyst. Arguably, this would be an unusual presentation of childhood thyroid carcinoma, but it must be kept in mind for patients presenting with a midline mass in the region of the hyoid. Finally, although most patients are euthyroid at the time of diagnosis, rare cases of differentiated fol-licular thyroid carcinomas can present as a functioning nodule associated with a suppressed thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) or frank thyrotoxicosis.

In children and young adults, it is not unusual for thyroid carcinoma to present only with cervical lymph-adenopathy, and locally metastatic disease is indeed present at diagnosis in the majority of pediatric PTC cases [67, 35, 39, 40]. In addition, children more often have disseminated disease at diagnosis, with lung metastases identified in up to 20% of cases [7, 39-41]. Metastases to other sites, such as bone and brain, are rare.

In a patient presenting with a painless thyroid nodule, the first procedure should be a high-quality neck ultrasound (US; together with fine-needle aspiration, FNA), which assists greatly with surgical planning [42]. US is useful in determining the size and appearance of the lesion, assessing for other nodules, ensur ing the accuracy of FNA, and looking for evidence of metastatic lymphadenopathy. For these reasons, US should be considered even when the diagnosis of thyroid carcinoma is already known. However, it should not be understated that the utility of ultrasound is greatly dependent upon the expertise of the ultra-sonographer, particularly when it comes to identifying metastatic lymphadenopathy. Baseline thyroid function tests should also be obtained at presentation. Nuclear imaging studies using radioactive iodine or technetium pertechnetate are not very useful in the initial evaluation of these patients, except in those with a low TSH, because even benign thyroid nodules will be "cold" on nuclear imaging. In DTC, tumor cells typically retain the ability to produce the thyroid-specific glycoprotein, thyroglobulin (TG). Measuring TG is not routinely recommended in the initial evaluation of a thyroid neoplasm, because elevated TG levels are identified in a variety of benign thyroid processes, thereby lowering the specificity of this diagnostic test. Once a diagnosis of thyroid carcinoma is established, however, a baseline TG may be useful for follow up. A chest x-ray or chest computed tomography without contrast to assess for pulmonary metastases should also be considered at diagnosis, noting that many individuals with lung metastases may not have abnormalities visualized on plain radiographs [40].

There remains some controversy about the definitive management of thyroid nodules in children. For example, biopsy (often using US guidance) is the recommended initial procedure in adults and can easily be accomplished in mature adolescents and young adults [38, 43-46]. Although FNA can also be easily performed in younger children, conscious sedation may be required. On the other hand, many experts feel that the initial diagnostic step should be surgery (i.e., lobectomy and isthmusectomy), given the higher likelihood that a thyroid nodule in a child, particularly when accompanied by palpable lymphadenopathy, is a carcinoma. Although this is a reasonable approach, it is our feeling that a preoperative FNA (and subsequent pathologic diagnosis) allows for better operative planning and minimizes the need for a second surgery, particularly in children who present with a single thyroid nodule only.

16.3.4 Management

The initial care of children and young adults with DTC is fairly algorithmic in nature, and consensus guidelines exist that can help the practitioner manage these patients [46]. However, it cannot be emphasized enough that established recommendations always need to be individualized for each patient. Therefore, they provide only a framework in which to practice. Finally, it is imperative to note that no prospective clinical trials have been undertaken in children to determine the optimal therapeutic approach.

Assuming that a diagnosis of PTC is made preoper-atively, the initial procedure of choice is a total thyroid-ectomy with care to preserve the parathyroid glands and the laryngeal nerves [47, 48]. Total thyroidectomy, compared to lesser procedures, is associated with a higher incidence of surgical complications, particularly hypoparathyroidism. It cannot be emphasized enough that the thyroidectomy be done by a surgeon who has great experience performing the procedure. Lobectomy and isthmusectomy may suffice in the older teenager and young adult with a small unifocal PTC, but a total thyroidectomy (to facilitate 131I therapy) is usually recommended for children less than 15 years of age because of the greater risk of disease recurrence and the higher likelihood of metastatic disease in this age group [4, 34, 40, 41, 46, 49]. Typically, a selective dissection of visibly enlarged or palpable lymph nodes is performed at the initial surgery. However, a complete neck dissection is indicated in patients with extensive involvement of the cervical nodes. In children with known distant metastases to the lungs, a total thyroid-ectomy and neck dissection is still required to facilitate subsequent radioactive iodine (RAI) therapy.

A diagnosis of FTC is typically made only after pathologic review of a resected thyroid nodule, since the characteristics of FTC (capsular and/or vascular invasion) cannot be seen on an FNA specimen, which is usually read as a "follicular neoplasm" or "follicular lesion." Although the prognosis of FTC may not be as dependent on the extent of the initial surgery (unlike PTC), a total thyroidectomy facilitates the use of 131I therapy to ablate the normal thyroid remnant, which permits an increased sensitivity to detect disease recurrence, thus improving the outcome for patients with FTC [50].

Following total or completion thyroidectomy (if the initial surgery entailed only a lobectomy), the patient is rendered hypothyroid with plans to administer RAI therapy 4-6 weeks later. This treatment is based upon studies in adults that demonstrate a lower recurrence rate and subsequent lower cancer-related mortality rate in patients treated with 131I [51]. Although RAI therapy in low-risk patients is controversial, it is generally recommended that all patients less than 15 years who have been treated surgically for PTC or FTC receive additional therapy with 131I, both to ablate the normal thyroid gland remnant (hence making long-term follow up easier) and to treat any remaining thyroid cancer or metastases [52].

Although short-term triiodothyronine therapy (Cytomel 1-2 p,g/kg/day divided twice daily to three times daily) is used frequently in adolescents and young adults, younger children are often quite tolerant of hypothyroidism. Therefore, it is also reasonable to give no thyroid hormone therapy and have them return about 4 weeks after surgery, when the TSH should be well above the desired range of 25-30 ^U/ml. A low-iodine diet is also followed for 2 weeks prior to scanning with 131I to facilitate RAI uptake by any remaining thyroid tissues. A discussion of the necessity and type (123I vs 131I) of a pretherapy thyroid scan (i.e., a diagnostic scan) is beyond the scope of the current chapter, although most centers routinely obtain this to help determine the appropriate treatment dose of 131I. There are no standard recommendations for the dose of 131I to be administered to children, and most experts determine the dose based on a weight (or body surface area) adjustment of the typical adult dose used in that situation [48]. Alternatively, dosimetry studies can be used in select cases to estimate the appropriate dose of RAI. Finally, in any female patient, pregnancy should be ruled out prior to the administration of any radioiodine.

After the initial therapies of surgery and RAI ablation, the long-term management of DTC includes replacing thyroid hormone with a brand-name levo-thyroxine product, appreciating that thyroid hormone requirements are higher in childhood and understanding that thyroid function tests often have to be monitored regularly (every 3-6 months) to keep pace with a growing child. Mildly supra-physiologic dosing is administered so that the TSH is kept below the lower limits of normal to prevent TSH-stimulated thyroid carcinoma growth. Thyroglobulin serves as an excellent tumor marker, and it is expected that TG levels will become undetectable after successful therapy. If TG does not become undetectable with TSH-suppres-sive therapy, the possibility of residual disease must be entertained and appropriate diagnostic studies should be ordered. TG samples should also be screened routinely for the presence of TG autoantibodies, which occurs in up to 25% of thyroid cancer patients. In any individual with positive antibodies, the TG cannot be interpreted due to assay interference and a likely false-negative result. In these cases, the antibody titer can be followed, since many patients cured of their disease will ultimately reach levels of zero, albeit several years after diagnosis [53].

Unlike other childhood cancers, DTC in children and young adults is not treated routinely with chemotherapy or external-beam radiation therapy. Chemotherapy has not been shown to be effective in thyroid cancer, although it may be tried as a last resort in patients who have rapidly progressive disease, despite maximized surgical and RAI therapies. External-beam radiation therapy is not offered routinely to patients who are younger than 45 years of age, although the rare case of a pathologically unfavorable thyroid carcinoma with known residual neck disease may warrant such an aggressive approach.

Children and young adults with DTC require lifelong surveillance, both to identify delayed recurrences and to assess for any late treatment effects. This is accomplished through TG measurements and appropriate radiologic studies, such as intermittent neck US and RAI scans as indicated. If a patient is identified to have a local recurrence, surgery is the treatment of choice. If the recurrence is not amenable to surgical therapy or if distant metastases are identified, assessment and treatment with RAI is appropriate, assuming that the disease readily concentrates the isotope on diagnostic imaging.

16.3.5 Late Effects

One of the unique aspects of DTC is the use of RAI in the evaluation and treatment of patients with this disease. Therapy with 131I is generally well tolerated and safe. Early and usually transient side effects of 131I may include nausea, vomiting, sialoadenitis, xerostomia, loss of taste, thyroiditis (if a sizable thyroid remnant remains after surgery), and, rarely, bone marrow suppression (leukopenia and thrombocytopenia) [54]. Some of these early side effects may be minimized by having the patient drink lots of water after therapy and suck on tart candies, such as lemon drops, to promote salivary flow. The long-term consequences of 131I therapy in children remain an area of concern, particularly in individuals who receive high cumulative doses in early childhood. Much remains to be learned about possible late effects, which can include infertility (particularly in men), permanent damage to the salivary glands resulting in chronic xerostomia or salivary duct stones, excessive dental caries, reduced taste, pulmonary fibrosis (in those with diffuse pulmonary metastases), and the possibility of the development of other cancers (stomach, bladder, colon, salivary gland, breast, and leukemia) after very high cumulative doses of 131I [54]. Therefore, caution should be exercised when giving multiple repeat doses of 131I to children and young adults, particularly in those patients whose disease is more indolent and does not require such aggressive therapy.

16.4 Medullary Thyroid carcinoma

16.4.1 Epidemiology

In children and young adults, MTC is an uncommon disease with an incidence of less than 1 case/million/year [2]. It accounts for approximately 7-10% of all thyroid malignancies. As compared to DTC, there is no clear gender predilection, as would be expected for a malignancy that is largely a dominantly inherited disease when diagnosed at a young age (see below). Five-year survival rates for MTC are between 90 and 95% in the pediatric and young adult population [2]. In patients not diagnosed early, incurable yet indolent disease is often the norm.

16.4.2 etiology/Pathology

Even though MTC is a unique endocrine neoplasm with several distinguishing features, it was not recog nized as a distinct clinical entity until 1959 [55]. During embryogenesis, progenitor C cells stream from the neural crest and populate several endocrine organs, including the pituitary, the thyroid, the pancreatic islet cells, the adrenal medulla, and the enterochromaffin system of the gut. In mammals, the neural-crest-derived C cells become entrapped in the upper portion of the lateral thyroid complex as it develops during embryogenesis. The greatest concentration of these parafollicular C cells is at the intersection between the upper one-third and lower two-thirds of the thyroid cephalad-caudal central axis. It is these cells that give rise to MTC. Therefore, although MTC is recognized as a thyroid tumor, it is more properly characterized as a malignancy of neural crest origin.

Sporadic MTC rarely occurs in children and young adults. Therefore, it is more appropriately characterized as a genetic disease when it affects this age group. Almost all children with MTC are afflicted with one of three hereditary cancer syndromes: multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2a (MEN2A) or type 2b (MEN2B), and familial MTC (FMTC). In addition to MTC, 50% of patients with MEN2A and MEN2B develop pheo-chromocytomas, and up to 20% of MEN2A patients develop hyperparathyroidism [56]. Patients with MEN2A may also develop a pruritic cutaneous lesion on the upper back, termed "cutaneous lichen amyloidosis" [57], and some kindreds can have associated Hirschsprung's disease [58]. All patients with MEN2B develop a generalized ganglioneuromatosis, manifested most obviously by the presence of oral mucosal neuromas, and a characteristic facial appearance and Marfanoid body habitus. Patients with FMTC only develop MTC.

MTC occurs in virtually all patients with these familial endocrinopathies, and it is the most common cause of death in affected individuals. The development of MTC in this setting is particularly relevant in children because, with current methods of diagnosis and treatment, MTC is one of the few malignancies that can be prevented or cured before it becomes clinically relevant.

Over 10 years ago, it was found that characteristic mis-sense mutations in the RET proto-oncogene caused MEN2A, MEN2B, and FMTC [59-61]. RET encodes for a tyrosine kinase receptor that is important for the differentiation of neural-crest-derived tissues. These point mutations cause activation of intracellular signaling pathways in the absence of ligand. In patients with MEN2A, mutations are located mostly in the extracellular cysteine-rich domain of the RET proto-oncogene, usually in exon 10 (codons 609, 611, 618, or 620) or exon 11 (codon 634). In almost all cases, there is a family history of MEN2A-associated neoplasms. In patients with MEN2B, which occurs as a de novo mutation in over half the cases, the mutation is almost exclusively in exon 16 (a change from methionine to threonine at codon 918), located in the intracellular tyrosine kinase domain of the gene. In patients with FMTC, the RET mutations are found in codons similar to MEN2A, or less often, in exon 13 (codons 768, 790, and 791), exon 14 (codon 804), or exon 15 (codon 891). There is a correlation between genotype and phenotype in that patients with MTC, pheochromocytomas, and hyper-parathyroidism almost always have mutations in codon 634, whereas patients with MTC and pheochromocy-tomas, but not hyperparathyroidism, most often have mutations in codons 618, 620, or 634.

The exact etiology of sporadic MTC is unknown. However, after the discovery that familial forms of MTC are associated with germ-line mutations in the RET proto-oncogene, it was discovered that somatic mutations in RET, namely in codon 918, can be identified in over 40% of sporadic cases of MTC [62]. Due to the rarity of sporadic MTC in the population less than 20 years of age, no comparative analysis can be made between the tumor in young and old patients.

On gross examination, MTC is whitish tan and located in the upper pole(s) of the thyroid lobe. Larger tumors often become calcified. In patients with sporadic tumors, only one thyroid lobe is involved. In patients with heritable disease, the MTC is virtually always bilateral, multicentric and located at the junction of the upper one-third and lower two-thirds of the thyroid lobes. Therefore, the finding of a multifocal MTC in any patient should raise concern for an underlying RET mutation. On microscopic examination the tumor cells have a spindle-shape appearance, and with special staining, one sees material with histological properties of amyloid. Also, in patients with the familial forms of MTC, clusters of C cells (C-cell hyperpla-sia) are also routinely identified pathologically. This

C-cell hyperplasia is believed to be one of the initial stages in the development and progression of MTC [63].

The biological aggressiveness of MTC depends on the hereditary setting in which it develops. In patients with MEN2B, the MTC progresses rapidly and thy-roidectomy, regardless of the age at which it is performed, is rarely curative. In patients with FMTC, however, the MTC progresses slowly, and it is uncommon for patients to die from this malignancy. In patients with MEN2A, the MTC is somewhat capricious; it usually follows an indolent course, but in some patients, it may progress rapidly. The reasons for this variable biological behavior of MTC in these various clinical entities are unknown. It is also difficult to assess the behavior of MTC in sporadic compared to familial cases. It is known that the MTC has a biological behavior that is more aggressive than PTC or FTC but less aggressive than anaplastic or poorly differentiated thyroid carcinomas.

16.4.3 Diagnosis and Clinical Presentation

The MTC cells have great biosynthetic activity and secrete calcitonin (CTN) and carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA), both of which are excellent tumor markers for the disease. CTN, in particular, provides a high degree of diagnostic sensitivity, specifically in the long-term follow up of MTC. Occasionally, MTC can lose its ability to produce CTN, which is usually indicative of a more aggressive tumor and hence a poorer prognosis. Intravenous calcium and pentagastrin are potent CTN secretagogues that stimulate production of the hormone within minutes of injection. Measurement of basal and stimulated plasma CTN levels is especially useful in the evaluation of patients following thyroid-ectomy. Elevated levels post-operatively indicate the presence of metastatic MTC, even though it may not be evident clinically. Furthermore, a pre-operative diagnosis can also be made by measuring basal or stimulated levels of plasma CTN. Considering the rarity of MTC and the possibility of false-positive results, preoperative measurement of CTN in children presenting with nodular thyroid disease is not performed routinely . However, in kindred members of MEN2A, MEN2B, or FMTC families who present with a thyroid nodule, the diagnosis of MTC must be excluded, and measuring plasma CTN levels in this setting may be useful.

Similar to DTC, MTC usually presents as a firm, painless neck mass without associated abnormalities. However, in those who have very high plasma CTN levels, diarrhea and/or flushing may be present. The tumor has spread usually beyond the thyroid gland by the time it becomes clinically apparent. Therefore, most patients presenting with a palpable MTC already have metastases to regional cervical nodes at diagnosis [58]. The overall approach to the evaluation of a child suspected to have MTC is similar to the assessment of PTC and FTC, including the use of US and FNA. One major difference, however, rests in our ability to diagnosis MTC (in the context of a positive family history and a known RET mutation) in advance of clinical disease (i.e., a palpable thyroid nodule). As genetic testing becomes more widely utilized in families with MEN2A and FMTC, more children and young adults are presenting with C-cell hyperplasia or microscopic MTC that is detected early only because genetic testing was undertaken.

16.4.4 Management

The identification of RET proto-oncogene mutations as the cause for hereditary MTC has provided the opportunity for direct DNA analysis in clinically normal individuals at risk for having inherited a mutated allele, thus permitting identification at a young age of those destined to develop MTC. This technology has revolutionized the surgical management in this group of patients, since these children can now have prophylactic thyroidectomy before they develop a thyroid malignancy [64].

Any child or young adult diagnosed with MTC should have a total thyroidectomy with resection of lymph nodes in the central zone of the neck (an anatomical region bounded above and below by the hyoid bone and the sternal notch, and laterally by the carotid arteries). If nodal metastases are evident grossly, the lymph node dissection should be extended to the lateral neck(s). Children from kindreds with MEN2A, MEN2B, or FMTC found by direct DNA screening to have inherited a mutated RET allele should also have a total thyroidectomy. Resection of lymph nodes in the central zone of the neck is required in MEN2B patients, but can be performed selectively in MEN2A and FMTC patients, specifically those undergoing prophylactic thyroidectomy, as long as the pre-operative evaluation is favorable.

The timing of prophylactic thyroidectomy remains an area of debate, and recommendations are based upon the earliest ages at which children with a particular mutation present with clinically relevant disease. Currently, RET proto-oncogene mutations are stratified into one of three levels [56]. It is the usual practice in MEN2A kindreds (level 2) to perform total thyroid-ectomy by 5 years of age, whereas in MEN2B patients (level 3), surgery is recommended within the first 612 months of life. Children with level 1 mutations (codons 609, 768, 790, 791, 804, and 891) have the lowest risk for the development of aggressive MTC, and the timing of thyroidectomy in these cases remains controversial [56].

In patients with MTC and/or MEN2, it is critically important that the presence of a pheochromocytoma be excluded prior to thyroidectomy, since severe complications and even death due to excessive catechol-amine release may occur during anesthetic induction or during the operative procedure. The most useful way to screen for this is via plasma metanephrines, particularly in young children in whom timed urine collections may be difficult. If identified, the pheo-chromocytoma(s) should be resected, usually laparo-scopically, prior to thyroidectomy. As with any case of pheochromocytoma, surgery should proceed only after appropriate alpha (and beta) blockade.

In patients with sporadic or heritable MTC and no evidence of hyperparathyroidism, every effort should be made to preserve parathyroid gland function at the time of thyroidectomy. If there is any question about parathyroid gland viability during the procedure, parathyroid tissue is typically grafted into a sternocleido-mastoid muscle. If this procedure is performed carefully, it virtually assures that the patient will have normal parathyroid function in the post-operative period. In patients with MEN2A and hyperparathy-roidism, a total parathyroidectomy with autotransplantation of parathyroid gland tissue to the non-dominant forearm is the procedure of choice. Some surgeons pre fer to perform a radical subtotal 3^-gland parathyroidectomy in these cases. However, in combination with a total thyroidectomy, this procedure is associated with a greater risk of permanent post-operative hypoparathyroidism. If there is no evidence of hyperparathyroidism and the patient has a RET codon 634 mutation, which is commonly associated with hyperparathyroidism, parathyroid tissue is grafted to the non-dominant forearm. It is critically important that parathyroid function be preserved in all of these patients, especially in young children, since permanent hypoparathyroidism can be a difficult problem to manage.

Children who have thyroidectomy performed prior to the time that the disease is evident clinically have an excellent chance of being cured. Patients are cured infrequently if the disease progresses beyond the thyroid gland. In these cases, patients may have microscopic disease (detectable only via tumor markers) and be asymptomatic for years. However, the tumors tend to grow progressively and can metastasize to mediastinal lymph nodes, lung, liver, and/or bone. Metastases are often vascular, and hepatic metastases may be confused with hemangiomas on imaging studies. The management of patients with metastatic disease presents a major challenge because the tumors are not sensitive to standard chemotherapeutic regimens, which usually incorporate the agent dacarbazine (DTIC), nor are they very sensitive to conventional doses of external-beam radiotherapy. Unlike DTC, the use of RAI in MTC is not beneficial or indicated.

The long-term follow up of children and young adults diagnosed with MTC involves monitoring CTN and CEA levels, obtaining US and other imaging studies as indicated by tumor markers, and screening routinely for the other endocrine manifestations of MEN2A and MEN2B, noting that these typically have their onset in adulthood. The life-long management of heritable MTC also includes appropriate genetic counseling, and it is ideal to involve a genetic counselor at the outset to assist these children and their families in understanding this dominantly inherited disease.

16.4.5 Late Effects

If the initial surgical procedure is successful, patients are cured of MTC and have normal serum calcium lev els and phonation. If the recurrent laryngeal nerves or the external branches of the superior laryngeal nerve are damaged, patients may be hoarse following surgery and require reconstruction procedures of the vocal cords. Patients who develop permanent hypoparathy-roidism will require life-long vitamin D and oral calcium preparations to maintain eucalcemia.

16.5 conclusions

Thyroid carcinoma in childhood is a rare clinical entity that can usually be treated successfully, particularly if the disease is diagnosed at an early stage. The adolescent or young adult diagnosed with a thyroid malignancy becomes part of a larger group of individuals dealing with an uncommon and sometimes chronic disease that requires life-long follow up, even if it is just to adjust thyroid hormone replacement. The future is often uncertain for young patients, specifically for those with metastatic disease, given the paucity of prospective clinical studies.


We would like to express our sincere appreciation to Drs. Rena Vas-Sellin and Nicholas Sarlis for their thoughtful review of this manuscript.


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