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30-Year Study Shows Moderate Hormone Suppression May Be Sufficient in Thyroid Cancer

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Key Points

  • This international, multicenter study, which began in 1987, collected data from 4,941 patiens with thyroid cancer.
  • Extreme thyroid-stimulating hormone suppression is associated with increased side effects, including osteoporosis and heart rhythm irregularities.
  • Patients with stage III and IV disease had improved survival when treated with radioactive iodine after surgery.

A study of long-term thyroid cancer outcomes shows, among other findings, that moderate suppression of thyroid-stimulating hormone, which drives the disease, may be as beneficial as more extreme hormone suppression. Extreme thyroid-stimulating hormone suppression is associated with increased side effects, including osteoporosis and heart rhythm irregularities. Results were published by Carhill et al in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Moderation of Suppression

“In these patients, if thyroid-stimulating hormone levels are elevated, recurrence rates are higher. Moderate thyroid-stimulating hormone suppression tends to bring the level just below the normal range, and what we show is that heavily suppressing thyroid-stimulating hormone even further may have diminishing returns,” said Bryan Haugen, MD, investigator at the University of Colorado Cancer Center; Professor and Head of the Division of Endocrine, Metabolism & Diabetes; and Kern Chair of Endocrine Neoplasms Research at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Dr. Haugen is also chairing a task force currently updating guidelines that define the standard of care for the treatment of thyroid cancer.

This international, multicenter study, which began in 1987, collected data from 4,941 patients with thyroid cancer.

“This is a unique data resource,” Dr. Haugen said. “Previous studies have been limited to the small number of patients that could be enrolled at a single center or to studies that mine data from more general cancer registries. Because we combined the patient data from about 14 participating centers and collected the data ourselves, we have a large set of high-quality, prospectively collected data.”

For example, Dr. Haugen points out, the group could be sure that terms like "progression-free survival" and "recurrence" were measured the same way for every patient.

Additional findings include confirmation of previous, smaller studies showing that patients with stage III and IV disease had improved survival when treated with radioactive iodine after surgery. Also, although the study showed that extreme hormone suppression offered no additional survival benefit in high-risk patients, it showed that mild suppression was useful, even in low-risk patients.

“In my mind, this study might give doctors pause when prescribing long-term, extreme thyroid-stimulating hormone suppression in thyroid cancer patients. Contrary to our results, there is evidence from previous studies that extreme suppression may help in high-risk patients, but maybe then after a few years, when there is no evidence of disease recurrence, this study suggests that doctors could back off when we wouldn't have before,” Dr. Haugen said.

In Dr. Haugen's opinion, this study shows the necessity of a prospective, randomized control trial testing extreme vs moderate thyroid-stimulating hormone suppression in high-risk thyroid cancer patients.

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.


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