Tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) such as vandetanib have shown clinical effectiveness in advanced medullary thyroid cancer (MTC). During TKI treatment, fluctuations in the tumor markers carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) and calcitonin (CTN) are frequently observed. Their role for treatment monitoring and the decision-making process has not been fully elucidated yet. Twenty-one patients (male, 16, female, 5; mean age, 49±13 years) with progressive MTC receiving vandetanib (300mg orally per day) were considered. Tumor restaging was performed every 3 months including contrast-enhanced computed tomography (CT). Response was assessed according to recent criteria (Response Evaluation Criteria in Solid Tumors, RECIST 1.1). Additionally, CEA and CTN were measured at the day of CT imaging and alterations observed in tumor markers were compared to respective imaging findings (partial response, PR; stable disease, SD; progressive disease, PD). During long-term follow-up (510±350 days [range, 97-1140 days]), CTN and CEA levels initially dropped in 71.4% and 61.9% of the patients followed by fluctuations in serum marker levels. A rise in CTN ≥39.5% between 2 subsequent measurements (defined by ROC analysis) had a sensitivity of 70.6% and a specificity of 83.2% in predicting PD with an accuracy of 82.0% (area under the curve (AUC), 0.76). Oscillations in CEA levels were not predictive for PD. Whereas tumor marker fluctuations in MTC patients undergoing TKI treatment are a frequent phenomenon, a significant rise in CTN ≥40% turns out to as an early indicator of tumor progression.
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