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Case Report

Cancer Research Frontiers. 2016 Feb; 2(1): 60-66. doi: 10.17980/2016.60

A 93-year-old MEN2A mutation carrier without Medullary Thyroid Carcinoma: a case report and overview of the literature

Karin van der Tuin1, Nandy Hofland1, Natasha M. Appelman-Dijkstra2, Rob B. van der Luijt3, Tom van Wezel4, Hans Morreau4 and Frederik J. Hes1*


1 Department of Clinical Genetics, Leiden University Medical Center, POBox 9600, 2300 RC Leiden, the Netherlands.

2 Center for Endocrine Tumours Leiden, Department of Medicine, Division Endocrinology, Leiden University Medical Center, POBox 9600, 2300 RC Leiden, the Netherlands.

3 Department of Medical Genetics , University Medical Center Utrecht, POBox85500, 3508 GA Utrecht, the Netherlands.

4 Department of Pathology, Leiden University Medical Center, POBox 9600, 2300 RC Leiden, the Netherlands.


*Corresponding author: Frederik J. Hes Email: f.j.hes@lumc.nl

Citation: Karin van der Tuin et al. A 93-year-old MEN2A mutation carrier without Medullary Thyroid Carcinoma: a case report and overview of the literature. Cancer Research Frontiers. 2016 Feb; 2(1): 60-66. doi: 10.17980/2016.60

Copyright: @ 2016 Karin van der Tuin, et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Competing Interests: The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Received Aug 17, 2015; Revised Dec 16, 2015; Accepted Dec 24, 2015. Published Feb 11, 2016




Background: Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia (MEN) type 2 is a neuroendocrine neoplasia predisposition syndrome caused by a heterozygous germline mutation in the RET proto-oncogene. Mutation carriers have a lifetime risk of nearly 100% of developing medullary thyroid carcinoma. Approximately 40-50% of patients with MEN2A develop a pheochromocytoma and 20-30% develop primary hyperparathyroidism.

Case report: We describe an unusual case of apparent non-penetrance in a 93-year-old carrier of an apparent de novo RET germline mutation (c.1858T>C, p.C620R) without clinical symptoms of MEN2A. Different tissue types were tested for this mutation, making mosaicism less likely. His son was diagnosed at the age of 50 years old with metastasized medullary thyroid carcinoma. Pathological examination of material of a prophylactic thyroidectomy from his 19-year-old grandson showed multiple micro-carcinomas.

Discussion and conclusion: This unusual case of a 93-year-old carrier without apparent medullary thyroid carcinoma questions the full penetrance of a germline mutation in RET codon 620. Further investigation of genetic modifiers is warranted, to further explore phenotypic risk profiles of specific RET genotypes.

Keywords: Medullary Thyroid Carcinoma; MTC; Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia; MEN2; RET proto-oncogene; case-report.




Medullary thyroid cancer (MTC) originates from the calcitonin-producing thyroid C-cells derived from the neural crest and represents approximately 5-10% of all thyroid tumours and about 15% of all thyroid cancer-related deaths. MTC may occur sporadically (75%) or as part of an autosomal dominantly inherited cancer syndrome (25%); multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN) type 2. MEN2 is a neuroendocrine neoplasia predisposition syndrome characterized by variable penetrance of MTC and other endocrinopathies (1, 2). MEN2 includes two phenotypes; MEN2A (95%), subdivide in four variants (Classical MEN2A, MEN2A with cutaneous lichen amyloidosis, MEN2A with Hirschsprung’s Disease and familial MTC) and MEN2B (5%). In all subtypes of MEN2, MTC is generally the first neoplastic manifestation because of its earlier manifestation and higher penetrance compared with other endocrinopathies.

MEN2 is caused by a heterozygous germline mutation in the RET proto-oncogene that is located on chromosome 10 and encodes a membrane-bound tyrosine kinase receptor with extracellular and cytoplasmic domains. Receptor tyrosine kinases transduce the extracellular signals for processes such as diverse as cell growth, differentiation, survival and programmed cell death. The majority of MEN2A and FMTC cases are caused by activating missense mutations in the extracellular cysteine codons in exon 10 and exon 11. Mutations in this extracellular domain lead to ligand-independent homodimerization of the receptor with constitutive activation and downstream signalling of the mitogen-activated protein [MAP] kinase pathway.

The estimated prevalence of MEN2A is 1-2 per 200,000 persons in the general population and males and females are equally affected (3, 4). In general, RET germline mutation carriers are reported to have a lifetime risk of nearly 100% of developing MTC. Approximately 40-50% of patients with MEN2A develop a pheochromocytoma and 20-30% develop primary hyperparathyroidism (5-8). In the majority of MEN2 families, associations between specific RET mutations (genotype) and aggressiveness of MTC and presence of their endocrine tumour (phenotype) are well documented (8-10). As mentioned, the penetrance of MTC in MEN2A is reported high, i.e. almost complete at advanced age (6). Here, we describe an unusual case of non-penetrance in a 93-year-old carrier of an de novo RET germline mutation without clinical symptoms of MEN2A.


Case presentation

A 50-year-old male with no family history of endocrine malignancy presented with swelling in the neck and vocal cord paralysis. Physical examination showed enlarged lymph nodes in the neck and blood investigation revealed elevated serum levels of calcitonin (Ctn) and carcino-embryonic antigen (CEA). Neck ultrasound imaging showed a solitary lesion in the left thyroid lobe of 2.3 cm in diameter, with calcification and pathologic lymphadenopathy on both sides, mainly in the mid- and inferior jugular region. No pheochromocytoma screening was performed at that time. After surgery the diagnosis of metastasized medullary thyroid carcinoma was histopathologically confirmed. Molecular genetic analysis revealed the presence of a germline mutation in exon 10 of the RET proto-oncogene (NM_020975.4: c.1858T>C, p.C620R). In addition, DNA-testing for the RET mutation was recommended for his family members. The family history showed no signs of Hirschsprung’s disease. Subsequently, investigation of other potentially affected endocrine organ systems was performed; there were no signs of pheochromocytoma or hyperparathyroidism. Annually clinical and biochemical screening was done. Five years later, he underwent adrenalectomy because of clinical symptoms (vertigo and palpitations), chemically suspected pheochromocytoma (increased catecholamine excess in urine) and growth of a lesion in the left adrenal (12 mm within one year). Histological examination showed adrenal medullary hyperplasia, but there was insufficient evidence for the definitive diagnosis pheochromocytoma.

His 19-year-old son, was identified as a presymptomatic mutation carrier and underwent prophylactic total thyroidectomy. Blood investigation showed no increased calcitonin or CEA levels and catecholamine excess in urine was not found. Histopathological analysis showed 3 foci of medullar micro-carcinoma, 1mm, 2mm and 3mm respectively, with some surrounding C-cell-hyperplasia.

The father of the proband was also identified as a carrier of the RET mutation at an age of 91 years old without thyroid surgery or any symptoms of the thyroid or other health problems. However, he did not want any further clinical evaluation for MEN2A. We confirmed the presence for the RET mutation in colon, spleen and nasal polyps, making germline mosaicism very unlikely. Additional sequencing of the whole coding sequence of the RET gene was performed to exclude other mutations in the RET gene in the 91-year-old patient which could conceal the effects of the c.1858T>C mutation. He died at age 93 because of respiratory insufficiency with a recently diagnosed prostate carcinoma with possibly bone metastasis. No clinical or laboratory diagnostic evaluation was performed during hospitalisation that would have indicated the presence of MTC, pheochromocytoma or primary hyperparathyroidism. In particular no blood test for Ctn, calcium, catecholamine or PTH levels and no thyroid ultrasound or CT-scan of the head neck region. No autopsy was conducted.

Furthermore, no other paternal family members were identified as mutation carriers (see pedigree Figure 1). The first generation was not available for DNA testing, they had no symptoms of MTC, pheochromocytoma or primary hyperparathyroidism, although no specific diagnostic evaluation was performed. In the second generation, 11 siblings did not carry the RET germline mutation, while three siblings were not available for DNA testing. These three siblings deceased after the age of 50 years old and had no symptoms, nor diagnostic evaluation. Subsequently, their offspring was offered testing for the RET mutation. In total, 10 children of these three siblings were tested and all did not carry the RET mutation, while one sibling was not available for DNA testing. This strongly suggests a de novo origin of the RET mutation in the father of the proband. Written informed consent was obtained from the patients for publication of this case report and any accompanying images.


Table 1. Summary of the American Thyroid Association [2015] recommended genotype-bases management of RET mutation carriers (12).

1515 tab1

ATA=American Thyroid Association risk categories (HST=highest risk, H=high risk, MOD=moderate), RET=REarranged during Transfection, PE=Annual physical examination, US=cervical ultrasound, Ctn= serum Calcitonin levels, TTX=Total thyroidectomy, PHEO=Pheochromocytoma, HPT=hyperparathyroidism, CL=cutaneous lichen amyloidosis, HD=Hirschsprung’s Disease, FMTC=familial medullar thyroid carcinoma, NA= not applicable. *Include most common mutation and no chromosomal alterations activating RET such as deletions, insertions, duplications, multiple mutations, and homozygous mutations. † the timing and extent of surgery guided by serum Ctn levels.



In order to appreciate the relevance of apparent non-penetrance in a 93-year-old carrier of a RET germline mutation, we must first examine the reported genotype-phenotype correlations of the RET proto-oncogene codon 620. In 2011, the International RET Exon 10 Consortium, comprising 27 centres from 15 countries obtained molecular based neoplastic risk profiles and codon-specific age related penetrance (6). Fifty percent penetrance for MTC was achieved by the age of 31 years for mutations in codon 620, reaching 80% penetrance by age 50 and almost 100% by age 70. Given these percentages, survival beyond middle age was thought unlikely without the intervention of thyroidectomy. There was no significant difference in age at diagnosis between symptomatic and screened ascertainment for MTC. Age related penetrance in patients in whom pheochromocytomas were assessed was 23% at 50 years. Penetrance was significantly different between pheochromocytomas ascertained from symptomatic assessment and those detected under surveillance. This underscores the great importance of clinical surveillance. The International RET Exon 10 Consortium, examined 23 families with a total of 101 mutation carriers with the same mutation as our family (codon 620 c.1858T>C). The median age of MTC was 29 years, ranges 6-73 years. About 15% of these patients also had a pheochromocytoma, and 3% had primary hyperparathyroidism. Our case, an asymptomatic carrier of the codon 620 RET mutation at the age of 93 years old, albeit without any prior intervention or treatment, questions the full penetrance of this RET mutation. Notably, the occurrence of MTC in a 87-year-old patient was described, also with a codon 620 mutation (11). Moreover, no further cases of MTC have been reported in MEN2A patients older than 75 years old, although this information may not have been the focus of reporting.

In 2015, the International Workshop on MEN published a consensus statement on the management of hereditary medullary thyroid carcinoma (12). Carriers of the RET codon 620 mutation, characterised as moderate risk, are recommended to undergo prophylactic thyroidectomy during childhood, or young adulthood, the timing and extent of surgery will be guided by the serum Ctn levels (Table 1). One concern is whether it is justifiable to put children and young adults at risk for permanent laryngeal nerve palsies and hypoparathyroidism (9). Prospective surveillance and early treatment of other manifestations of MEN2A, like pheochromocytoma and hyperparathyroidism, can reduce the morbidity and mortality (13).

About 90-95% of individuals with MEN2A have an affected parent, and 5-10% are de novo cases (14, 15). Our 93-year-old RET mutation carrier is most likely one of these rare de novo cases, because none of his 14 siblings (or their tested offspring) were RET mutation carriers. Bayesian statistics lower the a prior chance of inherited disease from 95% to a post prior chance of 0.05%.

Because of the age-dependent risk ratio and the extremely rare incomplete penetrance of the mutant allele, testing for this specific mutation in asymptomatic parents of MEN2A-affected children carrying the RET codon 620 mutation is important (16, 17). Our 93-year-old patient is most likely an example of this rare incomplete penetrance. Alternatively, MTC in an apparently de novo patient may arise from paternal mosaicism in one or more germ layers or organ systems without RET mutation in peripheral blood. In our 93-year-old apparent asymptomatic person, the RET mutation was detected in three different germ layers; peripheral blood, colon, spleen, nasal polyps and obviously affected germ cells, making mosaicism less likely. In addition, no cases of mosaic RET mutations have been reported.

Inter- and intra-familial phenotypic variability is described among the MEN2 families, also when the disease is caused by the same RET mutation (18). At present, knowledge of possible genetic modifiers that may affect the clinical course of this disease is still limited. Some research projects suggest a role for genetic modifiers. Examples of these are additional somatic mutations (19), or specific polymorphisms, such as over-representation of the G12S polymorphism of the SDHD gene in patients with MEN2A syndrome (20). The high prevalence of the G12S variant in these patients supports its genetic modifier role, but this association remains to be established. Besides polymorphisms, mitochondrial DNA mutations are suggested to be involved in medullary thyroid carcinoma tumorgenesis and/or progression (21). MTC could harbor imbalance between mutant and wild type RET alleles and in addition, RET copy number alterations, either RET gene amplification or chromosome 10 aneuploidy are described (22). Less is known about protective genetic modifiers.



In the current report, we described an unusual case of apparently non-penetrance, in a 93-year-old carrier of an apparent de novo RET germline mutation. Firstly, this observation questions the full penetrance of this RET germline mutation. Secondly, this case-report sheds new light on the carefully weighing of the benefit of potential cure by prophylactic thyroidectomy in older asymptomatic MEN2A carriers against over- treating in these carriers. Further investigation of genetic modifiers is warranted, to explore nucleotide specific genotype-phenotype correlations in MEN2A.




Figure 1. Multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2A pedigree showing RET mutation carriers (RET+) and non-carriers (RET-). Medullar Thyroid Carcinoma and adrenal hyperplasia (fully shaded), Medullar Thyroid Carcinoma (half shaded), RET mutation carriers (RET+) and non-carriers (RET-). Please note that the pedigree has been adjusted to protect the identity of the family without a loss of scientific integrity. Circles represent females; squares represent males; diamonds represent undisclosed gender. Ages of death (d) are given in the nearest 5-year tier.



We acknowledge the family described for their kind participation and the laboratory for molecular (DNA) diagnostics Utrecht (In particular D. Dooijes and T. Yimam), for their very good work with the genetic analysis.



ATA    American Thyroid Association;

CEA     Carcino-embryonic antigen;

CL       Cutaneous lichen amyloidosis;

Ctn       Calcitonin;

FMTC Familial medullary thyroid carcinoma;

HD       Hirschsprung’s Disease;

HPT     Hyperparathyroidism;

MAP    Mitogen-activated protein;

MEN    Multiple endocrine neoplasia;

MTC    Medullary thyroid carcinoma;

PHEO Pheochromocytoma;

PTH     Parathyroid hormone;

RET      REarranged during Transfection;

TTX     Total thyroidectomy.




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