How Thyrogen Simplifies Thyroid Cancer Follow-ups

Synthetic hormone reduces lead-up time and ill effects

Close up of nurse preparing a syringe for an injection
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Thyrogen is a type of synthetic thyroid hormone injected into the body prior to two different types of procedures:

  • a whole body scan to check for the presence of cancer in those who have been treated for a thyroid malignancy
  • a radiation ablation, a procedure meant to destroy suspect or known thyroid cancer cells by irradiating the tissue

Thyrogen is considered a major advance in how we screen for thyroid cancer after it has been treated.

It requires less lead-up time and far fewer ill effects than those seen in traditional imaging techniques.

Thyroid Cancer Follow-Up Prior to Thyrogen

For most people who have successfully treated for cancer, follow-up tests are usually quite simple in determining whether there has been a recurrence of a malignancy.

For those who have had thyroid cancer, the process is far more complicated. To check for a recurrence, a person must undergo a whole body radioactive iodine scan, a procedure that used to require a whole lot of preparation.

In the past, the person would have to stop their synthetic hormones for four to six week. The goal was to reach the natural thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) level in the body. By doing so, the increased TSH levels would promote the absorption of the radioactive iodine into any residual cancer cells. Without this absorption, you could never get an accurate reading.

The problem with this is that, by stopping the synthetic hormones, the person would be forced into a hypothyroid state with many accompanying symptoms:

  • moderate to severe fatigue
  • depression
  • weight gain
  • muscle aches
  • thinning hair
  • dry skin
  • mood swings
  • difficulty concentrating
  • delayed reflexes
  • headaches
  • constipation
  • insomnia

While some people would experience only mild physical effects, others would have symptoms that seriously compromised their quality of life.  As a result, people would often hesitate to do their follow-ups for fear of feeling ill for up to a month or more.

Thyroid Cancer Follow-Up Screening With Thyrogen

Thyrogen (thyrotropin alfa) was created to maintain hormone levels in persons undergoing a whole body scan or radiation ablation. This synthetic hormone allows a person to maintain proper thyroid function without the "clearing out" period that made the traditional procedure so challenging.

Thyrogen is given in a series of shots over two days prior to the procedure. During this lead-up period, a person is able to continue taking synthetic hormones without interruption.

There may be a few side effects associated with the injections, mainly headache and nausea. Hives, itching, and flushing have also been known to occur, although these are considered rare.

Thyrogen is not for everyone. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not take the drug nor should anyone who is allergic to any of the product’s ingredients. Based on your current health and other factors, you doctor may also advise against use.

While many insurance companies do cover Thyrogen, the co-pay can be quite high depending on your insurance plan. If your policy does not cover the co-pay, check to see if your company has a prescription assistance plan that can help. Those paying out of pocket can expect to pay anywhere between $1,000 to $1,500 per shot.

Source:

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. "Thyrogen (thyrotropin alfa for injection). Safety Information for Patients and Providers." Silver Spring, Maryland; September 10, 2001. 

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