Medullary thyroid cancer. An immunohistochemical and humoral study using six separate antigens

F. Pacini, F. Basolo, R. Elisei, L. Fugazzola, A. Cola, A. Pinchera

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The authors investigated the humoral and tissue expression of six antigens associated with medullary thyroid cancer (MTC): calcitonin (CT), calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA), neuron-specific enolase (NSE), somatostatin (SRIF), and thyroglobulin (TG). The antigens were studied in the neoplastic C cells using immunohistochemistry with specific antisera and in the plasma using specific radioimmunoassay. Eighteen patients (8 male and 10 female patients, aged 12-72 years) were studied. Mean follow-up was 70.7 months (range, 2-179 months). Nine patients (50%) died of their disease after a mean follow-up of 47.2 months (range, 2-116 months). By immunostaining, primary tumors expressed CT and CEA in all cases and NSE was positive in 90%, CGRP in 66%, SRIF in 63%, and TG in 58%. Metastatic tissues were positive in all cases of CT staining, 92.8% of CEA, 71.4% of NSE, 73.3% of CGRP, 38.5% of SRIF, and only 13.3% of TG staining. In positive cases the percentage of positive cells and the degree of staining were variable among the different antigens. The expression of an antigen in the neoplastic cells was associated with the hypersecretion of the corresponding antigen in the circulation in the case of CT and CEA. The levels of these antigens were elevated in all patients with metastases and could accurately predict the appearance of new metastases or indicate the effective treatment of previous metatases by surgery. In the case of NSE, CGRP, and SRIF, few patients had increased plasma concentrations of the antigens and these usually occurred during very advanced phases of the disease. Detectable levels of serum TG were never observed. When the outcome of the disease was compared with the expression of CT, CEA, NSE, CGRP, and TG, no correlation could be found. On the contrary, SRIF expression in the primary tumor could differentiate two groups of patients with different survival rates. SRIF-positive patients had survival rates of 100% and 50% at five and seven years, respectively, whereas SRIF-negative patients had survival rates of 40% at five years and 25% at seven years.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)300-308
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Journal of Clinical Pathology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1991


  • Calcitonin
  • Calcitonin gene-related peptide [CGRP]
  • Carcinoembryonic antigen [CEA]
  • Medullary thyroid cancer
  • Neuro-specific enolase [NSE]
  • Somatostatin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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