Thyroid Cancer Diagnosis Anaplastic Carcinoma

Anaplastic thyroid cancer — also called anaplastic carcinoma or anaplastic thyroid carcinoma — is the most aggressive and least common form of thyroid cancer, accounting for only 1 to 2 percent of thyroid cancer cases each year.

Anaplastic thyroid carcinoma is extremely aggressive and invasive. It usually originates in the follicular cells of the thyroid, and spreads or metastasizes very quickly. At the time of first diagnosis, the cancer has often already metastasized to one or more of the following regional areas:

  • Lungs
  • Lymph nodes in the neck
  • Trachea.

Anaplastic thyroid cancer is more likely to spread outside the thyroid and lymph nodes than any other form of thyroid cancer. It most often affects men, and people ages 65 and older.

Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer Symptoms

Patients with anaplastic carcinoma usually exhibit symptoms of the disease right away. In fact, the most common anaplastic thyroid cancer symptom is a rapidly growing mass in the front part of the neck. Other symptoms include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Hoarseness
  • Noisy breathing
  • Shortness of breath.

Treating Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer

Surgery is generally the preferred method for treating thyroid cancer, but it is not as successful in cases of anaplastic carcinoma, due to the rapid growth and aggressive nature of the disease. Frequently, by the time the patient notices anaplastic thyroid cancer symptoms, the cancer may have grown into vital structures within the neck, making it impossible to remove completely.

If anaplastic carcinoma has grown into the windpipe, patients sometimes require a tracheostomy — a surgical opening in the trachea to insert a breathing tube — to help them breathe. This is seldom the case with other forms of thyroid cancer.

Following surgery, doctors may use external-beam radiation to shrink the tumor. Chemotherapy is also often a part of the treatment plan for anaplastic thyroid cancer, in order to address the spread of cancer to the lungs or bones.

Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer Prognosis

Due to the extremely aggressive nature of the disease, the typical anaplastic thyroid cancer prognosis is poor. Fewer than 5 percent of patients survive more than 5 years after their diagnosis, according to the National Cancer Institute.

The earlier anaplastic thyroid cancer is diagnosed, the more successful treatments are likely to be.

Resources

Shomon, M. (2004). Anaplastic thyroid cancer. Retrieved March 23, 2010, from the About.com Web site: http://thyroid.about.com/od/thyroidcancer/a/anaplastic.htm.

MedicineNet.com staff. (n.d.). Thyroid cancer. Retrieved March 23, 2010, from the MedicineNet.com Web site: http://www.medicinenet.com/thyroid_cancer/article.htm.

National Cancer Institute staff. (n.d.). What you need to know about thyroid cancer. Retrieved March 23, 2010, from the National Cancer Institute Web site: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/thyroid/page9.

New York Thyroid Center Staff. (n.d.). Thyroid cancer: Anaplastic. Retrieved April 6, 2010, from the Columbia University Medical Center Web site: http://www.cumc.columbia.edu/dept/thyroid/anaplastic.html.

Endocrineweb staff. (2010). Thyroid Cancer: Anaplastic cancer the least common thyroid cancer. Retrieved March 23, 2010, from the Endocrineweb.com Web site: http://www.endocrineweb.com/caana.html.