Anaplastic thyroid cancer

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

Causes of Anaplastic thyroid cancer

Anaplastic thyroid cancer grows very rapidly and is an invasive type of thyroid cancer. It occurs most often in people over age 60. The cause is unknown.

Anaplastic cancer accounts for only about 1% of all thyroid cancers.

Anaplastic thyroid cancer Symptoms

  • Cough
  • Coughing up blood
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Hoarseness or changing voice
  • Loud breathing
  • Lower neck lump, which often grows quickly

Tests and Exams

A physical examination almost always show a neck growth.

  • A CT scan or MRI of the neck may show a tumor growing from the thyroid gland.
  • A thyroid biopsy shows anaplastic cancer.
  • An examination of the airway with a fiberoptic scope (laryngoscopy) may show a paralyzed vocal cord.
  • A thyroid scan shows this growth to be "cold," meaning it does not absorb a radioactive substance.

Thyroid function blood tests are usually normal.

Treatment of Anaplastic thyroid cancer

This type of cancer cannot be cured by surgery. Complete removal of the thyroid gland does not prolong most patients' life.

Of other treatment options, only radiation therapy combined with chemotherapy has 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.

For some patients, enrolling in a clinical trial of new thyroid cancer treatments 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.

Prognosis (Outlook)

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.

Potential Complications

  • Spread of tumor within the neck
  • Metastasis (spread) of cancer to other body tissues or organs

When to Contact a Health Professional

Call your health care provider if there is a persistent lump or mass in the neck, hoarseness, changing voice, cough, or coughing up blood.

References

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.

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Review Date: 3/22/2012
Reviewed By: Shehzad Topiwala, MD, Chief Consultant Endocrinologist, Premier Medical Associates, The Villages, FL. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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