What’s new in thyroid cancer research?
Research into thyroid cancer is being done right now in many hospitals, medical centers, and other places around the country. Each year, scientists find out more about what causes the disease, how to prevent it, and how to improve treatment.
The discovery of the genetic causes of familial (inherited) medullary thyroid cancer now makes it possible to identify family members carrying the abnormal gene and to remove the thyroid in these people to prevent cancer from starting there.
Progress in understanding the abnormal genes that cause sporadic (not inherited) thyroid cancer should also lead to better treatments.
Most thyroid cancers can be cured. But advanced cancers can be hard to treat, especially if they do not respond to radioactive iodine therapy. Doctors and researchers are looking for better and safer ways to treat thyroid cancer.
Surgery is often an effective treatment for most thyroid cancers without causing major side effects.
Some people who have thyroid surgery are bothered by the scar it leaves on the neck. Newer approaches to surgery may help with this. For example, doctors are now looking at doing surgery through smaller cuts in the neck, or even cuts under the arm.
Radioactive iodine (RAI) treatment
Doctors are looking for better ways to see which patients are likely to have their cancers come back after surgery. These patients may be helped by getting RAI treatment after surgery.
Researchers are also looking for ways to make RAI effective against more thyroid cancers. For example, doctors are studying whether some newer drugs can be used to make thyroid cancer cells more likely to take up radioactive iodine.
Some studies are testing the value of chemo drugs like paclitaxel (Taxol) and other drugs, as well as using chemo and radiation together in treating anaplastic thyroid cancer.
Most thyroid cancers do not respond well to chemo. But unlike standard chemo drugs, targeted drugs attack certain targets on cancer cells. Targeted drugs might work in some cases when standard chemo drugs do not, and they often have different (and less severe) side effects.
Tyrosine kinase inhibitors: A class of targeted drugs known as tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) may help treat thyroid cancer cells with changes in certain genes. Many of these drugs also keep new blood vessels from forming (see below).
Many papillary thyroid cancers have changes in the BRAF gene, which helps them grow. Drugs that target cells with BRAF gene changes are now being studied in thyroid cancers with this gene change.
Vandetanib (Caprelsa) and cabozantinib (Cometriq) are targeted drugs that are helpful in treating medullary thyroid cancer (MTC).
Some other TKIs are already approved to treat other types of cancer, and may be useful against MTC and differentiated thyroid cancers if other treatments are no longer working.
Anti-angiogenesis drugs: As tumors grow, they need a larger blood supply to get enough nutrients. They get it by causing new blood vessels to form (a process called angiogenesis). Anti-angiogenesis drugs work by blocking these new blood vessels.
Some of the TKIs have anti-angiogenic properties. Other anti-angiogenesis drugs, such as bevacizumab (Avastin), are also being studied.
Last Medical Review: 05/09/2013
Last Revised: 02/11/2014