Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer Review


What is Anaplastic Thyroid Carcinoma?

Anaplastic thyroid carcinoma is a rare and aggressive form of cancer of the thyroid gland.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Anaplastic thyroid cancer grows very rapidly and is an invasive type of thyroid cancer. It occurs most often in people over age 60 but can occur in younger people. There is no known cause for Anaplastic thyroid cancer development.

A Rare Disease:  Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer accounts for only about 1% of all thyroid cancers.

Signs and Symptoms         
  •  Cough
  •  Loud breathing
  •  Coughing up blood
  •  Difficulty swallowing
  •  Hoarseness or changing voice
  •  Lower neck mass, often noted to be rapidly enlarging
Diagnostic Testing         
  • Thyroid function blood tests are usually normal.
  • A physical examination almost always show a neck mass.
  • A CT scan or MRI of the neck may show a tumor growing from the thyroid gland.
  • Thyroid scan shows this mass to be "cold," meaning it does not absorb a radioactive isotope.
  • Examination of the airway with a fiberoptic scope (laryngoscopy) may show a paralyzed vocal cord.
  • Thyroid Mass biopsy confirms Anaplastic thyroid cancer diagnosis.

Treatment: Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer cannot be cured by surgery. For most patients, complete removal of the thyroid gland does not prolong their life. Of other treatment options available, only radiation therapy combined with chemotherapy give significant benefit. For some patients, enrolling in a clinical trial of new thyroid cancer treatments may be an option.

Expectations (prognosis): The prognosis for Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer  is very poor. Most people do not survive longer than 6 months due to the aggressive nature of this disease and lack of effective treatment options.

  • Spread of tumor within the neck
  • Metastasis (spread) of cancer to other body tissues or organs
  • Surgery to place a tube in the throat to help with breathing (tracheostomy) is often needed.
  • Surgery to place a tube in the stomach to help with eating (gastrostomy) is often needed.
Support GroupsThe stress of a terminal illness for both patient, caregiver, family and loved ones can often be eased by joining a support group of people sharing common experiences and problems.

Calling Your Doctor:  Call your health care provider if you or your loved one has persistent hoarseness, changing voice, cough, or coughing up blood not associated with throat infection or respiratory illness, has any sign of a  lump or mass in the neck.


Ladenson P, Kim M. Thyroid. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007: chap 244.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Guidelines in Oncology 2010: Thyroid Cancer. Version 1.2010.

Review Date: 02/22/2012

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