Aims: Monitoring treated patients with thyroid cancer for recurrent or metastatic disease is currently based upon the serial measurement of circulating plasma thyroglobulin (Tg) concentrations. However, the clinical usefulness of Tg immunoassays is limited by poor sensitivity and interference from anti-Tg antibodies. This study investigated whether the detection of Tg mRNA in peripheral blood, using reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), is of value in the biochemical surveillance of patients with thyroid cancer.
Methods: RNA was extracted from peripheral blood of five normal controls, six patients with abnormal thyroid function tests, and 28 patients who had undergone thyroidectomy for well differentiated thyroid cancer. From each, an 87 bp product from base pair 262 to 348 in the cDNA sequence of the thyroglobulin gene was amplified by RT-PCR.
Results: Tg mRNA was detected in normal individuals and patients with thyroid cancer. In the group of patients studied, identification of metastatic thyroid tissue by radioiodine scanning correlated better with Tg mRNA assay results than with serum Tg concentrations (accuracy 84% v 75%). No interference from circulating Tg antibodies was apparent. In patients studied prospectively over a 12 month period, there was a significant correlation between detectable Tg mRNA in peripheral blood and the presence or absence of metastatic disease, as demonstrated by radioiodine scanning.
Conclusions: These results suggest that detection of Tg mRNA in blood is a more sensitive marker for metastatic thyroid disease than Tg immunoassay, and appears to be unaffected by the presence of circulating anti-Tg antibodies.