Thyroid Cancer: Anaplastic Cancer

Anaplastic thyroid cancer is the least common type of thyroid cancer. In this article, you’ll learn about anaplastic thyroid cancer symptoms and treatments.

Anaplastic tumors are the least common (only 1% of all thyroid cancer cases) and most deadly of all thyroid cancers. This cancer has a very low cure rate with the very best treatments. Most patients with anaplastic thyroid cancer do not live 1 year from the day they are diagnosed.

Anaplastic thyroid cancer often arises within a more differentiated thyroid cancer or even within a goiter. Like papillary cancer, anaplastic thyroid cancer may arise many years (more than 20) following radiation exposure. Cervical metastasis (the spread of the cancer to lymph nodes in the neck) are present in the vast majority (more than 90%) of cases at the time of diagnosis. The presence of lymph node metastasis in these cervical areas causes a higher recurrence rate and is predictive of a high mortality rate.

Characteristics of Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer

  • Peak onset of anaplastic thyroid cancer is age 65 years old and older.
  • It’s very rare in young patients.
  • It’s more common in males than females by a 2:1 ratio.
  • It typically presents as a rapidly growing neck mass.
  • It can occur many years after radiation exposure.
  • The spread to lymph nodes of the neck is present in more than 90% of cases.
  • The distant spread (to lungs or bones) is very common even when it’s first diagnosed.
  • The overall cure rate is very low.
  • It typically requires a very aggressive treatment plan with surgery, radiation, and sometimes even chemotherapy.
  • It often requires a tracheostomy to maintain the patient’s airway.


Management of Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer

The major problem with anaplastic thyroid cancer is that it is usually too aggressive and invasive when it is diagnosed.

What are some common anaplastic thyroid cancer treatments?Only a small portion of patients can undergo surgical resection of the cancer in hopes of curing it. For those patients who are diagnosed at an earlier stage, a total thyroidectomy is necessary. Many patients, especially those who have advanced cancer and cannot undergo surgical resection, will benefit from external-beam radiation (this is different from radioactive iodine). Chemotherapy is another anaplastic thyroid cancer treatment option.

Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer Conclusion

If you or a family member has noticed a rapidly growing mass on your neck, make an appointment with a doctor. It may be anaplastic thyroid cancer, and if it is, your doctor will explain your treatment options.

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