Exp Mol Med.  2004 Jun;36(3):268-273.

Molecular technology and the recombinant TSH have changed diagnostics of thyroid carcinoma with positive I-131 whole body scan but low serum thyroglobulin

  • 1Operative Unit of Medical Oncology, "S. Giovanni di Dio" Hospital, Frattamaggiore, Italy. limontel@libero.it
  • 2Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, Second University of Naples, Italy.
  • 3Diagnostic Imaging and Radiotherapy, Department, "Federico II" University, Naples, Italy.


The early detection of recurrent differentiated thyroid carcinoma (DTC) cells in the post surgery DTC patients relies on the sensitivity of measuring both the level of thyroglobulin (Tg) and 131-Iodine distribution by Whole Body Scan (WBS). Undetectable level of Tg associated with negative WBS or elevated levels of Tg associated with positive WBS ("concordant") is ordinarily indicative of either absence or presence of disease. At times, elevated level of Tg with negative WBS or low levels of Tg with positive WBS ("discordant") could also occur. In the present study, we retrospectively reviewed series of 573 patients with DTC followed in the Diagnostic Imaging and Radiotherapy of the University "Federico II" of Naples between 1993 and 1997. We focused on 9 out of 573 patients (1.56%) who had a discordant pattern with low level of Tg/positive WBS in the post-surgical follow-up. Four patients were metastatic at presentation while 5 patients with metastasis during follow-up still remained in persistently low levels of Tg (<5 ng/mL). This result does point to some flaw in the evaluation of "discordant" cases. Reviewing data previously described series by resetting cut-off values of Tg <1 ng/ml as undetectable changed the apparent "discordant" subgroup of patients into "concordant". Recent introduction of recombinant human TSH (rhTSH) to enhance the expression level of Tg brought significant increase in the sensitivity of diagnostic evaluation of thyroid cancer patients. The role of burdensome WBS in the follow up evaluation of DTC patients is significantly reduced over time especially in low-risk patients while the relevance of Tg assay is steadily increased. Sensitive Tg assays, significantly improved our ability to assess disease status in follow-up of DTC. Given the possibility of late disease relapses, the need for long-term follow-up, and reduced delay in treatment of persistent disease, there is still need for greater sensitive diagnostic tools for DTC.


differentiated thyroid carcinoma; follow-up; thyroglobulin; whole body scan
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