Molecular imaging plays an important role in the evaluation and management of thyroid cancer. The routine use of thyroid scanning in all thyroid nodules is no longer recommended by many authorities. In the initial work-up of a thyroid nodule, radioiodine imaging can be particularly helpful when the thyroid stimulating hormone level is low and an autonomously functioning nodule is suspected. Radioiodine imaging can also be helpful in the 10-15% of cases for which fine-needle aspiration biopsy is indeterminate. Therapy of confirmed thyroid cancer frequently involves administration of iodine-131 after surgery to ablate remnant tissue. In the follow-up of thyroid cancer patients, increased thyroglobulin levels will often prompt the empiric administration of 131I followed by whole body radioiodine imaging in the search for recurrent or metastatic disease. 131I imaging of the whole body and blood pharmacokinetics can be used to determine if higher doses of 131I can be given in thyroid cancer. The utility of [18F]fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) positron emission tomography (PET) is steadily increasing. FDG is primarily taken up by dedifferentiated thyroid cancer cells, which are poorly iodine avid. Thus, it is particularly helpful in the patient with an increased thyroglobulin but negative radioiodine scan. FDG PET is also useful in the patient with a neck mass but unknown primary, in patients with aggressive (dedifferentiated) thyroid cancer, and in patients with differentiated cancer where histologic transformation to dedifferentiation is suspected. In rarer types of thyroid cancer, such as medullary thyroid cancer, FDG and other tracers such as 99mTc sestamibi, [11C]methionine, [111In]octreotide, and [68Ga]somatostatin receptor binding reagents have been utilized. 124I is not widely available, but has been used for PET imaging of thyroid cancer and will likely see broader applicability due to the advantages of PET methodology.
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Molecular imaging in thyroid cancer