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01.12.2017 | Case Report | Ausgabe 1/2017 Open Access

World Journal of Surgical Oncology 1/2017

High CEA levels in a case of resected colorectal cancer: delayed diagnosis of metachronous medullary thyroid cancer

World Journal of Surgical Oncology > Ausgabe 1/2017
Shih-Wei Chen, Yen-Kung Chen



Carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) is one of the most widely used tumor markers, and its value in the surveillance of post-operative colorectal cancer is well established. Fluorodeoxyglucose-positron emission tomography (FDG-PET) has been clinically used in colorectal cancer imaging including preoperative staging, evaluation of therapeutic response, detection of disease recurrence, and investigation of unexplained rising tumor markers.

Case presentation

We report a case of resected colorectal cancer presented with rising CEA levels in 5 years, and FDG-PET revealed no definitive evidence of recurrence except abnormal focal FDG uptake in the right thyroid lobe. However, fine needle aspiration cytology (FNAC) of the thyroid nodule showed negative for malignancy. Progressively rising CEA levels were noted over the following 5 years, but serial follow-up examinations did not find evidence of recurrence. Fluorodeoxyglucose-positron emission tomography/computed tomography (FDG-PET/CT) was performed subsequently and again showed focal FDG uptake in the right thyroid lobe. This time, FNAC revealed positive for malignancy, in favor of medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC). The patient underwent total thyroidectomy and modified radical neck dissection, and MTC with cervical nodal metastasis (pT3N1) was diagnosed. He had cervical lymph nodes recurrence 2 years later, which was resected.


This case reminded us that FDG-PET/CT may detect occult tumors resulting in CEA elevation other than colorectal cancer. Moreover, FNA has a higher false negative rate in detecting MTC than other forms of thyroid cancer. Repeat FNAC for the initial negative cytology result and measure of serum calcitonin for the early MTC detection could be more helpful to avoid the delay in MTC diagnosis.
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