The Basics of Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid Cancer is characterized by abnormal malignant cells form in the tissues of the thyroid gland. Being a very small organ, the thyroid is just a little bigger than a quarter and can barely be felt through the skin, signs that the thyroid gland is healthy. Growths of lumps or nodules on the thyroid are fairly common and not causes of concern in most cases. However, should these cause discomfort (such as in breathing and swallowing) and disrupt daily life, it is most likely a sign of something wrong with the thyroid gland.[1]

There are four main types of thyroid cancer – Papillary, Follicular, Medullary, and Anaplastic. Papillary is the most common of all thyroid cancers while Anaplastic is the most advanced and hard-hitting form. This short article will be providing an overview on Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer

What is anaplastic thyroid cancer?

Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer is rare, affecting only two per cent of patients diagnosed with cancer of the thyroid. It is also known as undifferentiated thyroid cancer due the cells looking and behaving uncharacteristically.[2]

According to the National Cancer Institute, there are about 53,990 new cases of thyroid cancer for 2018 in the United States alone while there have been 2,060 deaths. It affects women more than men and is usually found in ages 25 to 65.[3]

Causes of Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer

The causes of this cancer are unknown but some cases start of as differentiated thyroid cancers. A family history of thyroid diseases is also viewed as a high-risk factor. It starts out as a lump on the neck and malignant cells very quickly spread to lymph nodes (stage IVA), tissues just outside the thyroid (stage IVB) or to other parts of the body such as lungs and bones (stage IVC).[4]

Symptoms of Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer

Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer is characterized by a rapidly growing mass in the neck coupled with difficulties in swallowing and breathing. Coughs, voice hoarseness, and constant neck discomfort are some common symptoms that should alarm anyone especially those over the age of 60.[5]

Possible treatment for Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer

A retrospective research made by Lim, Shin in 2012 found that patients with anaplastic thyroid cancer showed poor prognosis even when treated with multimodal treatment (surgery plus chemoradiotherapy). Although this combination of treatments has improved the survival rates of patients, prognosis of this disease still is bad due to the aggressiveness of its metastasis, giving a median survival rate of less than six months.[6]

A tracheostomy may also be done to help a patient breathe better by taking out a part of the trachea while also undergoing external beam radiation therapy or chemotherapy. Additionally, a total thyroidectomy may help reduce symptoms if the disease remains in the remaining part of the thyroid.[7]


[1] The National Cancer Institute (Updated 2018 May 23). Thyroid Cancer Treatment (Adult) (PDQ®)–Patient Version. Retrieved from

[2] American Thyroid Association. Thyroid Cancer: Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer. Retrieved from

[3] The National Cancer Institute (Updated 2018 November 30). Thyroid Cancer Treatment (Adult) (PDQ®)–Health Professional Version. Retrieved from

[4] ThyCa: Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association Inc. (2018 January 10). Thyroid Cancer Types, Stages and Treatment Overview. Retrieved from

[5] Macmillan Cancer Support UK. Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer. Retrieved from

[6] Sun ML, Shin SJ (2012 March 1). Treatment Outcome of Patients with Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer: A Single Center Experience. Yonsei University College of Medicine. Yonsei Medical Journal. Retrieved from                                                                                                                                                                [7] ThyCa: Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association Inc. (2018 January 10). Thyroid Cancer Types, Stages and Treatment Overview. Retrieved from


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