Anaplastic thyroid cancer

Definition

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

Alternative Names

Anaplastic carcinoma of the thyroid

Causes

Anaplastic thyroid cancer is an invasive type of thyroid cancer that grows very rapidly. It occurs most often in people over age 60. It is more common in females than in males. The cause is unknown.

Anaplastic cancer accounts for only about less than 1% of all thyroid cancers in the United States.

Symptoms

Symptoms include:

Exams and Tests

A physical exam almost always shows a growth in the neck region. Other exams include:

Thyroid function blood tests are normal in most cases.

Treatment

This type of cancer cannot be cured by surgery. Complete removal of the thyroid gland does not prolong the lives of people who have this type of cancer.

Surgery combined with radiation therapy and chemotherapy may have a significant benefit.

Surgery to place a tube in the throat to help with breathing (tracheostomy) or in the stomach to help with eating (gastrostomy) may be needed during treatment.

For some people, enrolling in a clinical trial of new thyroid cancer treatments based on the genetic changes in the tumor may be an option.

Support Groups

You can often ease the stress of illness by joining a support group of people sharing common experiences and problems.

Outlook (Prognosis)

The outlook with this disease is poor. Most people do not survive longer than 6 months because the disease is aggressive and there is a lack of effective treatment options.

Possible Complications

Complications may include:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Contact your health care provider if you notice:

References

Insoo S, Sosa JA. Thyroid. In: Townsend CM Jr, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 37.

Iyer PC, Dadu R, Ferrarotto R, et al. Real-world experience with targeted therapy for the treatment of anaplastic thyroid carcinoma. Thyroid. 2018; 28(1):79-87. PMID: 29161986 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29161986/.

Jonklaas J, Cooper DS. Thyroid. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 213.

National Cancer Institute, Center for Cancer Research website. Anaplastic thyroid cancer. www.cancer.gov/pediatric-adult-rare-tumor/rare-tumors/rare-endocrine-tumor/anaplastic-thyroid-cancer. Updated February 27, 2019. Accessed June 14,2022.

Smallridge RC, Ain KB, Asa SL, et al. American Thyroid Association guidelines for management of patients with anaplastic thyroid cancer. Thyroid. 2012;22(11):1104-1139. PMID: 23130564 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23130564/.


Review Date: 1/25/2022
Reviewed By: Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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