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Question 29#

A 30-year-old man is evaluated for a thyroid nodule. The patient reports that his father died from thyroid cancer and that a brother had a history of recurrent renal stones. Blood calcitonin concentration is 2000 pg/mL (normal is < 100); serum calcium and phosphate levels are normal. The patient is referred to a thyroid surgeon. Which of the following studies should also be obtained? 

a. Obtain a liver scan
b. Measure parathormone level
c. Measure urinary catecholamines
d. Administer suppressive doses of thyroxine and measure levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone
e. Treat the patient with radioactive iodine

Correct Answer is C


For the patient described, the markedly increased calcitonin level indicates the diagnosis of medullary carcinoma of the thyroid. In view of the family history, the patient most likely has multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN) type 2A, which includes medullary carcinoma of the thyroid gland, pheochromocytoma, and parathyroid hyperplasia. Pheochromocytoma may exist without sustained hypertension, as indicated by excessive urinary catecholamines. Before thyroid surgery is performed on this patient, a pheochromocytoma must be ruled out through urinary catecholamine determinations; the presence of such a tumor might expose him to a hypertensive crisis during surgery. The serum calcium serves as a screening test for hyperparathyroidism. At surgery, the entire thyroid gland must be removed because foci of parafollicular cell hyperplasia, a premalignant lesion, may be scattered throughout the gland. Successful removal of the medullary carcinoma can be monitored with serum calcitonin levels. Medullary carcinoma of the thyroid rarely metastases to the liver, so a liver scan would be unnecessary if liver enzymes are normal. Thyroxine will be needed after surgery, but MEN type 2 is not associated with hypothyroidism. Radioactive iodine can be used to treat malignancies that arise from the follicular cells of the thyroid; parafollicular cells, however, do not take up iodine and do not respond to radioactive iodine. Hyperparathyroidism, while unlikely in this eucalcemic patient, is probably present in his brother.