DOI: 10.1007/s00259-018-4045-9Pages: 2159-2169

[18F]DOPA PET/ceCT in diagnosis and staging of primary medullary thyroid carcinoma prior to surgery

1. Medical University of Vienna, Department of Biomedical Imaging and Image-Guided Therapy, Division of Nuclear Medicine

2. HistoConsultingHartenbach

3. Medical University of Vienna, Department of Biomedical Imaging and Image-Guided Therapy, Division of General and Pediatric Radiology

4. Medical University of Vienna, Clinical Institute of Pathology

Correspondence to:
Markus Hartenbach
Tel: 0043 1 40400 45330




Medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC) is characterized by a high rate of metastasis. In this study we evaluated the ability of [18F]DOPA PET/ceCT to stage MTC in patients with suspicious thyroid nodules and pathologically elevated serum calcitonin (Ctn) levels prior to total thyroidectomy and lymph node (LN) dissection.


A group of 32 patients with sonographically suspicious thyroid nodules and pathologically elevated basal Ctn (bCtn) and stimulated Ctn (sCtn) levels underwent DOPA PET/ceCT prior to surgery. Postoperative histology served as the standard of reference for ultrasonography and DOPA PET/ceCT region-based LN staging. Univariate and multivariate regression analyses as well as receiver operating characteristic analysis were used to evaluate the correlations between preoperative and histological parameters and postoperative tumour persistence or relapse.


Primary MTC was histologically verified in all patients. Of the 32 patients, 28 showed increased DOPA decarboxylase activity in the primary tumour (sensitivity 88%, mean SUVmax 10.5). Undetected tumours were exclusively staged pT1a. The sensitivities of DOPA PET in the detection of central and lateral metastatic neck LN were 53% and 73%, in contrast to 20% and 39%, respectively, for neck ultrasonography. Preoperative bCtn and carcinoembryonic antigen levels as well as cN1b status and the number of involved neck regions on DOPA PET/ceCT were predictive of postoperative tumour persistence/relapse in the univariate regression analysis (P < 0.05). Only DOPA PET/ceCT cN1b status remained significant in the multivariate analysis (P = 0.016, relative risk 4.02).


This study revealed that DOPA PET/ceCT has high sensitivity in the detection of primary MTC and superior sensitivity in the detection of LN metastases compared to ultrasonography. DOPA PET/ceCT identification of N1b status predicts postoperative tumour persistence. Thus, implementation of a DOPA-guided LN dissection might improve surgical success.

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  • Accepted: Apr 27, 2018
  • Online: May 15, 2018

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