Some types of thyroid cancers have mutations in the gene coding for the BRAF protein. Targeted therapy may be a part of the treatment for thyroid cancers with BRAF mutations.

Thyroid cancer begins in the thyroid gland, which makes hormones that help regulate body functions like metabolism, body temperature, and heart rate. About 43,720 people in the United States will receive a diagnosis of thyroid cancer in 2023.

Some thyroid cancers have mutations in a gene that codes for a protein called BRAF. This mutation may affect the outlook for people who have thyroid cancer, although research remains mixed.

This article will look at what we know about BRAF mutations and what they may mean for thyroid cancer.

The BRAF protein, which is encoded by the BRAF gene, is involved in regulating cell growth. A single mutation in BRAF, referred to as V600E, can permanently activate the protein. This means that cells can begin to grow uncontrollably.

Molecular tests done on a thyroid biopsy sample can detect BRAF mutations. The results of these tests can help diagnose thyroid cancer if biopsy results aren’t clear. These results may also help inform treatment decisions for thyroid cancer.

Studies have associated BRAF mutations with aggressive features. However, a 2023 review notes that while BRAF mutations may be identified during thyroid cancer diagnosis, they’re not a reliable indicator for mortality or recurrence.

According to some studies, BRAF mutations may be associated with increased mortality or recurrence risk. But other studies have not found any link between BRAF mutations and mortality or recurrence.

This suggests that BRAF mutations alone aren’t a marker for poor thyroid cancer outcomes. These mutations likely interact with other factors involved with thyroid cancer outlook, such as:

BRAF mutations happen in many papillary thyroid cancers, a common type of thyroid cancer. In fact, about 80% of thyroid cancers are papillary thyroid cancers.

The prevalence of the BRAF V600E mutation can vary depending on the group under study. Researchers have estimated its presence in about 60% of papillary thyroid cancers. But a 2016 study notes that prevalence can range from 36–83%.

BRAF mutations can also be present in 10–50% of anaplastic thyroid cancers. Anaplastic thyroid cancer is rare, making up only 2% of all thyroid cancers, but is often aggressive.

Many thyroid cancers are treated with the removal of all (thyroidectomy) or some (lobectomy) of the thyroid gland. Radioactive iodine therapy is sometimes needed after surgery to help destroy any remaining thyroid cancer cells.

However, radioactive iodine therapy can be less effective in people with BRAF mutations. As such, targeted therapy may be a treatment option for people who have thyroid cancer with BRAF mutations. Targeted therapy hones in on and inhibits specific markers associated with cancer cells.

Targeted therapy for papillary thyroid cancer may involve a multikinase inhibitor like sorafenib (Nexavar), which impacts the BRAF pathways.

Dabrafenib (Tafinlar), taken with trametinib (Mekinist), is also approved to treat anaplastic thyroid cancer. Dabrafenib specifically targets BRAF mutations.

Some types of thyroid cancer can have a mutation in the gene that codes for the BRAF protein. This protein is involved in the growth of cells, meaning that mutations can cause cells to grow uncontrollably.

The outlook for people who have BRAF-positive thyroid cancer is unclear. Some studies have found that BRAF mutations are associated with increased mortality and thyroid cancer recurrence, while others have not.

Thyroid cancers with a BRAF mutation may be treated with targeted therapy, as they can be resistant to radioactive iodine therapy. If you have thyroid cancer with a BRAF mutation, talk with your oncologist about how it affects your specific treatment and outlook.