Ninety-two patients from 12 kindreds with hereditary medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC) were evaluated. We sought to determine if the stimulated plasma calcitonin (CT) level at the time of diagnosis was of prognostic significance. The patients were divided into four groups according to their preoperative stimulated plasma CT levels (1) 250-1,000 pg/ml (n = 25); (2) 1,000-5,000 pg/ml (n = 36); (3) 5,000-10,000 pg/ml (n = 8); (4) >10,000 pg/ml (n = 23). Compared between the four groups were several parameters, including incidence of regional lymph node metastases, incidence of residual MTC post-thyroidectomy (as indicated by increased (>300 pg/ml) plasma CT levels after operation), incidence of distant metastases, and incidence of death. Also compared were the incidences of microscopic or gross MTC in thyroidectomy specimens. The incidence of regional lymph node involvement ranged from a minimum of one (4%) of 25 patients in Group 1 to 13 (57%) of 23 patients in Group 4. Similarly, plasma CT levels were elevated in only one (4%) of 25 patients in Group 1 compared to 14 (61%) of 23 patients in Group 4. There was no evidence of distant metastases or death in the patients in Groups 1, 2, or 3. In the 23 patients in Group 4, however, four (17.4%) had distant metastases and two (8.7%) died of disease during the period of observation. Of the 25 patients in Group 1, MTC was evident only by microscopic examination in 14 (56%). Eleven (44%) of the patients in Group 1 had macroscopically evident medullary thyroid carcinoma. This is in contrast with patients in Group 4 where all 23 had grossly evident MTC. These data indicate that the stimulated plasma CT level at the time of diagnosis is an excellent prognostic indicator of the extent of a disease in patients with hereditary MTC. Aggressive screening of kindred members at risk is of critical importance for establishing the diagnosis and instituting therapy at a time when the neoplasm is confined to the thyroid gland.
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