Serum thyroglobulin and 131I whole body scan after recombinant human TSH stimulation in the follow-up of low-risk patients with differentiated thyroid cancer

in European Journal of Endocrinology
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  • 1 Unit of Endocrinology, Scientific Institute 'Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza', 71013 San Giovanni Rotondo, Foggia, Italy.
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OBJECTIVE: The 'standard' postoperative follow-up of patients with differentiated thyroid cancer (DTC) has been based upon serum thyroglobulin (Tg) measurement and (131)I whole body scan ((131)I-WBS) after thyroid hormone (T(4)) treatment withdrawal. However, (131)I-WBS sensitivity has been reported to be low. Thyroid hormone withdrawal, often associated with hypothyroidism-related side effects, may now be replaced by recombinant human thyroid stimulating hormone (rhTSH). The aim of our study was to evaluate the diagnostic accuracy of (131)I-WBS and serum Tg measurement obtained after rhTSH stimulation and of neck ultrasonography in the first follow-up of DTC patients. DESIGN: Ninety-nine consecutive patients previously treated with total thyroidectomy and (131)I ablation, with no uptake outside the thyroid bed on the post-ablative (131)I-WBS (low-risk patients) were enrolled. METHODS: Measurement of serum Tg and (131)I-WBS after rhTSH stimulation, and ultrasound examination (US) of the neck. RESULTS: rhTSH-stimulated Tg was <or=1 ng/ml in 78 patients (Tg-) and >1 ng/ml (Tg+) in 21 patients, including 6 patients with Tg levels >5 ng/ml. (131)I-WBS was negative for persistent or recurrent disease in all patients (i.e. sensitivity = 0%). US identified lymph-node metastases (confirmed at surgery) in 4/6 (67%) patients with stimulated Tg levels >5 ng/ml, in 2/15 (13%) with Tg>1<5 ng/ml, and in 2/78 (3%) who were Tg-negative. CONCLUSIONS: (i) diagnostic (131)I-WBS performed after rhTSH stimulation is useless in the first follow-up of DTC patients; (ii) US may identify lymph node metastases even in patients with low or undetectable serum Tg levels.