Friday, May 10, 2013

High-dose Radioiodine Treatment for Thyroid Carcinoma

Figure 1: Hyperthyroid cat with a huge thyroid tumor after 3 years of methimazole treatment. 
Notice the swollen neck, which turned out to be a massive thyroid carcinoma.
Thyroid carcinoma is a relatively rare cause of hyperthyroidism in cats (1-4). Our recent review of almost 2100 cats showed that less than 0.5% of cats with newly diagnosed hyperthyroidism will have thyroid cancer (5).

After months to years of methimazole treatment, it is not uncommon for the hyperthyroid cats' thyroid tumor(s) to continue to grow progressively larger (Fig. 1). Remember that all hyperthyroid cats have a thyroid tumor, which is responsible for the oversecretion of T4 and T3 (6,7).

In some of these cats, the thyroid tumor becomes very large (Fig. 1), and many of these will become difficult to regulate, even with high daily doses of oral or transdermal methimazole (8). Some cats eventually become completely refractory to methimazole or y/d, so alternative treatment modalities must be considered.

In addition to growing larger with time, the benign thyroid adenoma characteristic of early feline hyperthyroidism can also transform into malignant thyroid carcinoma in some cats (4,9,10). In our studies, the prevalence of thyroid carcinoma rises to over 20% in cats managed with methimazole longer than 4 years.

Again, methimazole or other antithyroid drug therapy (including Hill's y/d) does nothing to the thyroid tumor pathology and cannot stop the benign tumor from growing or transforming to carcinoma. Radioiodine therapy can be used to cure cats with such malignant thyroid tumors. Surgery can be attempted, but intrathoracic extension and metastasis is common, making it difficult to do a complete thyroidectomy these cats (Fig. 2).

Figure 2: Thyroid images of 6 hyperthyroid cats with thyroid carcinoma. 
Notice the large tumor volumes, with extension of disease beyond the limits of the thyroid capsule into the chest cavity in all cases.

High-dose Radioiodine Treatment for Thyroid Carcinoma

In cats with thyroid carcinoma, radioiodine offers the best chance for successful cure of the cancer because it concentrates in all hyperactive thyroid cells (i.e., carcinomatous tissue, as well as metastasis). Unlike cats with thyroid adenoma or adenomatous hyperplasia, the goal for cats with thyroid carcinoma is to totally ablate all thyroid tissue, ensuring complete destruction of all malignant thyroid tissue (Fig. 3).

Figure 3: Thyroid images of a hyperthyroid cat with thyroid carcinoma before and after high-dose radioiodine treatment.
Notice the complete ablation of all thyroid cancer tissue 2 months after treatment (right).

Because the tumor size and volume of thyroid carcinoma tissue is usually very large, extremely high doses of radioiodine (generally 10-fold higher than needed for most cats with benign thyroid disease) are almost always needed to destroy all of the malignant tissue. In most treatment centers that are licensed to treat with large doses of radioiodine, a high, fixed dose of 30 mCi (1110 mBq) is administered (4,11,12).

Longer periods of hospitalization are required with use of such high-dose radioiodine administration because of the prolonged radioiodine excretion. Because the goal is to ablate all thyroid tissue, this high dose almost always leads to iatrogenic hypothyroidism, necessitating daily L-thyroxine (L-T4) replacement therapy.

  1. Mooney CT, Peterson ME. Feline hyperthyroidism. In: Mooney CT, Peterson ME, eds. BSAVA Manual of Canine and Feline Endocrinology. Quedgeley, Gloucester: British Small Animal Veterinary Association; 2012:92-110. 
  2. Baral R, Peterson ME. Thyroid gland disorders. In: Little, S.E. (ed), The Cat: Clinical Medicine and Management. Philadelphia, Elsevier Saunders 2012;571-592. 
  3. Peterson ME: Hyperthyroidism in cats In: Rand JS, Behrend E, Gunn-Moore D, et al., eds. Clinical Endocrinology of Companion Animals. Ames, Iowa Wiley-Blackwell, 2013;295-310.
  4. Hibbert A, Gruffydd-Jones T, Barrett EL, et al. Feline thyroid carcinoma: diagnosis and response to high-dose radioactive iodine treatment. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery 2009;11:116-124.
  5. Peterson ME, Broome MR. Thyroid scintigraphic findings in 917 cats with hyperthyroidism. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine 2012; 26:754.
  6. Peterson ME. Do all cats have a thyroid tumor? Is it thyroid cancer? Insights into Veterinary Endocrinology. May 7, 2011.
  7. Gerber H, Peter H, Ferguson DC, et al. Etiopathology of feline toxic nodular goiter. Vet Clinics  North Am Small Anim Pract 1994;24:541-565
  8. Peterson ME. Treatment of severe, unresponsive, or recurrent hyperthyroidism in cats. Proceedings of the 2011 American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine Forum. 2011;104-106.
  9. Peterson ME, Broome MR. Hyperthyroid cats on long-term medical treatment show a progressive increase in the prevalence of large thyroid tumors, intrathoracic thyroid masses, and suspected thyroid carcinoma. Proceedings of European College of Veterinary Internal Medicine; 2012.
  10. Peterson ME. Thyroid tumors grow progressively larger in most hyperthyroid cats treated with methimazoleInsights into Veterinary Endocrinology. August 26,2012.
  11. Peterson ME, Broome MR. Radioiodine for feline hyperthyroidism In: Bonagura JD,Twedt DC, eds. Kirk's Current Veterinary Therapy, Volume XV. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier, 2013;in press.
  12. Turrel JM, Feldman EC, Nelson RW, et al. Thyroid carcinoma causing hyperthyroidism in cats: 14 cases (1981-1986). J Am Vet Med Assoc 1988;193:359-364. 


Bailey said...

Dr. Peterson...I posted twice previously about Bailey's hyper-t and concomitant bladder issues and I am a bit lost on this blog. Huge apologies for my question being in the wrong place...feel free to properly direct me. Bailey is currently being treated with Methimazole for extreme hyper-t and Clavamox for what we thought was a UT infection. Further labwork + ultrasound shows no infection, rather a large mass in his bladder. Vet has postulated either a large blood clot or a cancerous tumor. Researching further on my own, I felt it might be interstitial cystitis...all of the symptoms are there. Would IC show in an ultrasound as a mass? Is that possible? Or is the vet closer to the truth?

Enormous gratitude for your help...

Dr. Mark E. Peterson said...

Sorry, I cannot be of much help here. Remember, I specilize in endocrinology, and I am certainly not an expert in the use of ultrasound to differential interstitial cystitis form a bladder tumors.

I'd say you need to have more specific studies (eg, double contrast cystogram) to determine for certain what's wrong with your cat, and you might want to see a urologist for the best information.