Anaplastic thyroid carcinoma: Biology, pathogenesis, prognostic factors, and treatment approaches

Chandrakanth Are, Ashok R. Shaha

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

367 Scopus citations


Background: Anaplastic thyroid carcinoma (ATC) is one of the most aggressive solid tumors known to affect humans and carries a dismal prognosis. Our primary aim was to review its epidemiology, biology, risk factors, and prognostic indicators. We also reviewed the individual and combined roles of surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and newer therapeutic options in the management of ATC. Methods: An extensive literature review was conducted to include all published reports on ATC. The changing trends in the management of anaplastic thyroid cancer were analyzed to summarize the current practice of management of ATC. Results: Although ATC is rare, there has been a decline in its incidence worldwide. ATC accounts for more than half of the 1200 deaths per year attributed to thyroid cancer. Long-term survivors are rare, with > 75% and 50% of patients harboring cervical nodal disease and metastatic disease, respectively, at presentation. ATC can arise de novo or from preexisting well-differentiated thyroid cancer. Surgical management has shifted from tracheostomy only for palliation to curative resection when possible. Tracheostomy is performed for impending obstruction rather than for prophylaxis. Radiotherapy has evolved from postoperative administration only to preoperative treatment, combining preoperative and postoperative treatment and using higher doses, along with hyperfractionating and accelerating dose schedules. Chemotherapy has changed from monotherapy to combination therapy, and newer drugs such as paclitaxel show promise. Similarly, novel angiogenesis-inhibiting agents are currently being used, with early reports of some benefit. Conclusions: Despite multimodality approaches, ATC still carries a dismal prognosis. This should provoke innovative strategies beyond conventional methods to tackle this uniformly lethal disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)453-464
Number of pages12
JournalAnnals of Surgical Oncology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Anaplastic thyroid carcinoma
  • Biology
  • Pathogenesis
  • Prognostic factors
  • Treatment approaches

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Oncology


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