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Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer: Most feared of them all

  • Posted on- Jul 17, 2015
  • 2768 Views

Anaplastic thyroid cancer (ATC) is a rare, but very destructive cancer, representing only 1-2% of all thyroid cancers. People with anaplastic cancer are usually older with an average age at diagnosis of 65 to 75 years. It is rare to see anaplastic thyroid cancer before the age of 40. Men are twice as likely as women to have anaplastic cancer. Most patients with anaplastic thyroid cancer do not live 1 year from the day of diagnosis. The cancer grows very rapidly and is an invasive type of thyroid cancer.

Anaplastic thyroid cancer arises within a more differentiated thyroid cancer or even within a goiter. One of the reasons behind this type of cancer is years of radiation exposure. At the time of diagnosis, the spread of the cancer to lymph nodes in the neck are present in the majority of cases.

Common anaplastic thyroid cancer symptoms

A common way this cancer becomes visible is by you or someone else noticing a growing mass on your neck. When the oncologist checks the neck mass, it is usually large and very hard. You may not notice the tumors until a few days or weeks ago because they grow very rapidly and get bigger every few days.

Anaplastic thyroid cancer invades adjacent structures and spread quickly to cervical lymph nodes and other body organs like the lungs and bones. Anaplastic thyroid cancer that spreads to the lungs is present in 50% of patients at the time of diagnosis. Most of these cancers are extremely dangerous and inoperable. Even with the most advanced therapy protocols, survival rate is less than 10%. Symptoms include:

Some of the features of thyroid cancer are:
  • Anaplastic thyroid cancer is at its peak in age 65 years old and older
  • Rare in young patients
  • More common in males than females
  • Presents as a rapidly growing neck mass
  • It can occur after years of radiation exposure
  • The spread to lymph nodes of the neck is present in 9 out of 10 cases
  • The overall cure rate is very low
  • It often requires a tracheotomy to maintain the patient's airway 

Common anaplastic thyroid cancer treatments

The major problem with anaplastic thyroid cancer is that it is generally too belligerent and invasive when it is diagnosed. Hence, only small numbers of patients undergo surgical treatment of cancer in hopes of curing it. Total thyroidectomy is required by patients who are diagnosed early. Many patients who have advanced cancer will benefit from external-beam radiation. Chemotherapy is another option for anaplastic thyroid cancer patients.

If you or someone else has noticed a quickly growing mass on your neck, fix an appointment with an oncologist. It may be anaplastic thyroid cancer and if comes out to be, he/she will explain you the treatment options.