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David Viola, Laura Valerio, Eleonora Molinaro, Laura Agate, Valeria Bottici, Agnese Biagini, Loredana Lorusso, Virginia Cappagli, Letizia Pieruzzi, Carlotta Giani, Elena Sabini, Paolo Passannati, Luciana Puleo, Antonio Matrone, Benedetta Pontillo-Contillo, Valentina Battaglia, Salvatore Mazzeo, Paolo Vitti, and Rossella Elisei

Abstract

Thyroid cancer is rare, but it is the most frequent endocrine malignancy. Its prognosis is generally favorable, especially in cases of well-differentiated thyroid cancers (DTCs), such as papillary and follicular cancers, which have survival rates of approximately 95% at 40 years. However, 15–20% of cases became radioiodine refractory (RAI-R), and until now, no other treatments have been effective. The same problems are found in cases of poorly differentiated (PDTC) and anaplastic (ATC) thyroid cancers and in at least 30% of medullary thyroid cancer (MTC) cases, which are very aggressive and not sensitive to radioiodine. Tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) represent a new approach to the treatment of advanced cases of RAI-R DTC, MTC, PDTC, and, possibly, ATC. In the past 10 years, several TKIs have been tested for the treatment of advanced, progressive, and RAI-R thyroid tumors, and some of them have been recently approved for use in clinical practice: sorafenib and lenvatinib for DTC and PDTC and vandetanib and cabozantinib for MTC. The objective of this review is to present the current status of the treatment of advanced thyroid cancer with the use of innovative targeted therapies by describing both the benefits and the limits of their use based on the experiences reported so far. A comprehensive analysis and description of the molecular basis of these therapies, as well as new therapeutic perspectives, are reported. Some practical suggestions are given for both the choice of patients to be treated and their management, with particular regard to the potential side effects.

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M M Muresan, P Olivier, J Leclère, F Sirveaux, L Brunaud, M Klein, R Zarnegar, and G Weryha

The presence of distant metastases from differentiated thyroid carcinoma decreases the 10-year survival of patients by 50%. Bone metastases represent a frequent complication especially of follicular thyroid cancer and severely reduce the quality of life causing pain, fractures, and spinal cord compression. Diagnosis is established by correlating clinical suspicion with imaging. Imaging is essential to detect, localize, and assess the extension of the lesions and should be used in conjunction with clinical evidence. Bone metastases are typically associated with elevated markers of bone turnover, but these markers have not been evaluated in differentiated thyroid cancer. Skeletal and whole-body magnetic resonance imaging and fusion 2-deoxy-2-[18F]fluoro-d-glucose whole-body positron emission tomography/computed tomography (PET/CT) are the best anatomic and functional imaging techniques available in specialized centers. For well-differentiated lesions, iodine-PET scan combined 124I-PET/CT is the newest imaging development and 131I is the first line of treatment. Bisphosphonates reduce the complications rate and pain, alone or in combination with radioiodine, radionuclides, or external beam radiotherapy and should be employed. Surgery and novel minimally invasive consolidation techniques demand an appropriate patient selection for best results on a multimodal approach. Basic research on interactions between tumor cells and bone microenvironment are identifying potential novel targets for future more effective therapeutic interventions for less differentiated tumors.

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Brian Hung-Hin Lang, Chung-Yau Lo, Wai-Fan Chan, King-Yin Lam, and Koon-Yat Wan

A number of risk-group stratification or staging systems have been found useful at stratifying patients with differentiated thyroid carcinoma into risk groups. Those identified as high risk could be subjected to more aggressive treatment, while those at low risk could be spared of such treatment. However, the best stratification system in patients with follicular thyroid carcinoma (FTC) remains unclear. Through a comprehensive MEDLINE search from 1965 to 2005, a total of 18 different staging systems were identified in the literature and 14 of them were applicable to 171 patients, with FTC managed at our institution from 1961 to 2001. Cancer-specific survivals (CSS) were calculated by Kaplan–Meier method and were compared by log-rank test. Using Cox proportional hazards analysis, the relative importance of each staging system in determining CSS was calculated by the proportion of variation in survival time explained (PVE). CSS were predicted by 13 out of the 14 staging systems significantly (P < 0.001). The three highest ranked staging systems by PVE were the new American Joint Commitee on Cancer/Union Internationale Centre le Cancer 6th edition, tumour, node, metastases (TNM; 22.4), followed by the Clinical Class (21.2) and the metastases, age, completeness of resection, invasion, size (MACIS; 20.4). In conclusion, 13 out of the 14 presently available staging systems predicted CSS significantly in FTC. When predictability was measured by PVE, the TNM system was found to have the best predictability and thus, should be the stratification system of choice for FTC in the future.

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Devora Champa, Marika A Russo, Xiao-Hui Liao, Samuel Refetoff, Ronald A Ghossein, and Antonio Di Cristofano

Poorly differentiated tumors of the thyroid gland (PDTC) are generally characterized by a poor prognosis due to their resistance to available therapeutic approaches. The relative rarity of these tumors is a major obstacle to our understanding of the molecular mechanisms leading to tumor aggressiveness and drug resistance, and consequently to the development of novel therapies. By simultaneously activating Kras and deleting p53 (Trp53) in thyroid follicular cells, we have generated a novel mouse model that develops papillary thyroid cancer invariably progressing to PDTC. In several cases, tumors further progress to anaplastic carcinomas. The poorly differentiated tumors are morphologically and functionally similar to their human counterparts and depend on MEK/ERK signaling for proliferation. Using primary carcinomas as well as carcinoma-derived cell lines, we also demonstrate that these tumors are intrinsically resistant to apoptosis due to high levels of expression of the Bcl2 family members, Bcl2a1 (Bcl2a1a) and Mcl1, and can be effectively targeted by Obatoclax, a small-molecule pan-inhibitor of the Bcl2 family. Furthermore, we show that Bcl2 family inhibition synergizes with MEK inhibition as well as with doxorubicin in inducing cell death. Thus, our studies in a novel, relevant mouse model have uncovered a promising druggable feature of aggressive thyroid cancers.

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Xiaoyun Dong, Waixing Tang, Stephen Stopenski, Marcia S Brose, Christopher Korch, and Judy L Meinkoth

The functional significance of decreased RAP1GAP protein expression in human tumors is unclear. To identify targets of RAP1GAP downregulation in the thyroid gland, RAP1 and RAP2 protein expression in human thyroid cells and in primary thyroid tumors were analyzed. RAP1GAP and RAP2 were co-expressed in normal thyroid follicular cells. Intriguingly, RAP1 was not detected in normal thyroid cells, although it was detected in papillary thyroid carcinomas, which also expressed RAP2. Both RAP proteins were detected at the membrane in papillary thyroid tumors, suggesting that they are activated when RAP1GAP is downregulated. To explore the functional significance of RAP1GAP depletion, RAP1GAP was transiently expressed at the lowest level that is sufficient to block endogenous RAP2 activity in papillary and anaplastic thyroid carcinoma cell lines. RAP1GAP impaired the ability of cells to spread and migrate on collagen. Although RAP1GAP had no effect on protein tyrosine phosphorylation in growing cells, RAP1GAP impaired phosphorylation of focal adhesion kinase and paxillin at sites phosphorylated by SRC in cells acutely plated on collagen. SRC activity was increased in suspended cells, where it was inhibited by RAP1GAP. Inhibition of SRC kinase activity impaired cell spreading and motility. These findings identify SRC as a target of RAP1GAP depletion and suggest that the downregulation of RAP1GAP in thyroid tumors enhances SRC-dependent signals that regulate cellular architecture and motility.

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Claudia Bozza, Fabio Puglisi, Matteo Lambertini, Etin-Osa Osa, Massimo Manno, and Lucia Del Mastro

Breast cancer is the most common invasive cancer in women of reproductive age. In young women, chemotherapy may induce amenorrhea: it is still uncertain how to assess menopausal status in these patients despite the importance of its definition for choosing appropriate endocrine treatment. In the development of sensitive biomarkers for fertility and ovarian reserve, anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH) is considered a promising marker of ovarian reserve. The clearest data regarding a clinical use of AMH are related to the measurement of the ovarian pool in women who undergo IVF: the available data, also in breast cancer patients, seem to suggest that AMH measurement, before gonadotropin administration, can be a useful marker for the prediction of women at risk for poor-response or no response to ovarian stimulation. The utility of AMH as a potential marker of chemotherapy-induced ovarian follicular depletion and an early plasma marker of chemotherapy-induced gonadal damage has been evaluated both in young women after treatment for cancer in childhood and in young survivors of hematological malignancies and solid tumors. Several studies have demonstrated a potential utility of AMH, inhibin, or follicle-stimulating factor as biomarkers predicting infertility risk in breast cancer patients, but the studies conducted so far are not conclusive. Further studies are needed in order to define the regimen-specific action of chemotherapy on AMH levels, the percentage of post-treatment recovery of plasma levels of the hormone, and the relationship between menopausal status and AMH.

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Myriem Boufraqech, Lisa Zhang, Meenu Jain, Dhaval Patel, Ryan Ellis, Yin Xiong, Mei He, Naris Nilubol, Maria J Merino, and Electron Kebebew

The expression and function of miR-145 in thyroid cancer is unknown. We evaluated the expression and function of miR-145 in thyroid cancer and its potential clinical application as a biomarker. We found that the expression of miR-145 is significantly downregulated in thyroid cancer as compared with normal. Overexpression of miR-145 in thyroid cancer cell lines resulted in: decreased cell proliferation, migration, invasion, VEGF secretion, and E-cadherin expression. miR-145 overexpression also inhibited the PI3K/Akt pathway and directly targeted AKT3. In vivo, miR-145 overexpression decreased tumor growth and metastasis in a xenograft mouse model, and VEGF secretion. miR-145 inhibition in normal primary follicular thyroid cells decreased the expression of thyroid cell differentiation markers. Analysis of indeterminate fine-needle aspiration samples showed miR-145 had a 92% negative predictive value for distinguishing benign from malignant thyroid nodules. Circulating miR-145 levels were significantly higher in patients with thyroid cancer and showed a venous gradient. Serum exosome extractions revealed that miR-145 is secreted. Our findings suggest that miR-145 is a master regulator of thyroid cancer growth, mediates its effect through the PI3K/Akt pathway, is secreted by the thyroid cancer cells, and may serve as an adjunct biomarker for thyroid cancer diagnosis.

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Shih-Ping Cheng, Chien-Liang Liu, Ming-Jen Chen, Ming-Nan Chien, Ching-Hsiang Leung, Chi-Hsin Lin, Yi-Chiung Hsu, and Jie-Jen Lee

CD74, the invariant chain of major histocompatibility complex class II, is also a receptor for macrophage migration inhibitory factor (MIF). CD74 and MIF have been associated with tumor progression and metastasis in hematologic and solid tumors. In this study, we found that 60 and 65% of papillary thyroid cancers were positive for CD74 and MIF immunohistochemical staining respectively. Anaplastic thyroid cancer was negative for MIF, but mostly positive for CD74 expression. Normal thyroid tissue and follicular adenomas were negative for CD74 expression. CD74 expression in papillary thyroid cancer was associated with larger tumor size (P=0.043), extrathyroidal invasion (P=0.021), advanced TNM stage (P=0.006), and higher MACIS score (P=0.026). No clinicopathological parameter was associated with MIF expression. Treatment with anti-CD74 antibody in thyroid cancer cells inhibited cell growth, colony formation, cell migration and invasion, and vascular endothelial growth factor secretion. In contrast, treatment with recombinant MIF induced an increase in cell invasion. Anti-CD74 treatment reduced AKT phosphorylation and stimulated AMPK activation. Our findings suggest that CD74 overexpression in thyroid cancer is associated with advanced tumor stage and may serve as a therapeutic target.

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Susanne Singer, Susan Jordan, Laura D Locati, Monica Pinto, Iwona M Tomaszewska, Cláudia Araújo, Eva Hammerlid, E Vidhubala, Olga Husson, Naomi Kiyota, Christine Brannan, Dina Salem, Eva M Gamper, Juan Ignacio Arraras, Georgios Ioannidis, Guy Andry, Johanna Inhestern, Vincent Grégoire, Lisa Licitra, and on behalf of the EORTC Quality of Life Group, the EORTC Head and Neck Cancer Group, and the EORTC Endocrine Task Force

The purpose of the study was to pilot-test a questionnaire measuring health-related quality of life (QoL) in thyroid cancer patients to be used with the European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC) core questionnaire EORTC QLQ-C30. A provisional questionnaire with 47 items was administered to patients treated for thyroid cancer within the last 2 years. Patients were interviewed about time and help needed to complete the questionnaire, and whether they found the items understandable, confusing or annoying. Items were kept in the questionnaire if they fulfilled pre-defined criteria: relevant to the patients, easy to understand, not confusing, few missing values, neither floor nor ceiling effects, and high variance. A total of 182 thyroid cancer patients in 15 countries participated (n = 115 with papillary, n = 31 with follicular, n = 22 with medullary, n = 6 with anaplastic, and n = 8 with other types of thyroid cancer). Sixty-six percent of the patients needed 15 min or less to complete the questionnaire. Of the 47 items, 31 fulfilled the predefined criteria and were kept unchanged, 14 were removed, and 2 were changed. Shoulder dysfunction was mentioned by 5 patients as missing and an item covering this issue was added. To conclude, the EORTC quality of life module for thyroid cancer (EORTC QLQ-THY34) is ready for the final validation phase IV.

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Roberto Bellelli, Maria Domenica Castellone, Ginesa Garcia-Rostan, Clara Ugolini, Carmelo Nucera, Peter M Sadow, Tito Claudio Nappi, Paolo Salerno, Maria Carmela Cantisani, Fulvio Basolo, Tomas Alvarez Gago, Giuliana Salvatore, and Massimo Santoro

Anaplastic thyroid carcinoma (ATC) is a very aggressive thyroid cancer. forkhead box protein M1 (FOXM1) is a member of the forkhead box family of transcription factors involved in control of cell proliferation, chromosomal stability, angiogenesis, and invasion. Here, we show that FOXM1 is significantly increased in ATCs compared with normal thyroid, well-differentiated thyroid carcinomas (papillary and/or follicular), and poorly differentiated thyroid carcinomas (P=0.000002). Upregulation of FOXM1 levels in ATC cells was mechanistically linked to loss-of-function of p53 and to the hyperactivation of the phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase/AKT/FOXO3a pathway. Knockdown of FOXM1 by RNA interference inhibited cell proliferation by arresting cells in G2/M and reduced cell invasion and motility. This phenotype was associated with decreased expression of FOXM1 target genes, like cyclin B1 (CCNB1), polo-like kinase 1 (PLK1), Aurora B (AURKB), S-phase kinase-associated protein 2 (SKP2), and plasminogen activator, urokinase: uPA (PLAU). Pharmacological inhibition of FOXM1 in an orthotopic mouse model of ATC reduced tumor burden and metastasization. All together, these findings suggest that FOXM1 represents an important player in thyroid cancer progression to the anaplastic phenotype and a potential therapeutic target for this fatal cancer.