What is anaplastic thyroid cancer?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

Anaplastic thyroid cancer is the most uncommon and fastest-growing form of thyroid cancer. The thyroid is a gland located in the base of the neck, which regulates heart rate, blood pressure, and your weight and temperature with hormones. Characterized by a tumor that grows and causes the thyroid gland to become painfully large, this disease affects between one and two percent of the population and develops mostly in people 60 years and older. Women are at a higher risk for developing anaplastic thyroid cancer than men. The prognosis is poor, and there is currently no effective way to treat this disease.

Anaplastic thyroid cancer (ATC) is a rare, but very aggressive 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 ATC before the age of 40. Women are twice as likely as men to have anaplastic cancer.
Anaplastic thyroid cancer, also called undifferentiated thyroid cancer, is very rare and makes up only 1 to 2% of all thyroid cancers. Anaplastic thyroid cancer is more common in older people (with an average age of about 60) and is more common in women than in men. It is not known what causes anaplastic thyroid cancer, but often well-differentiated thyroid cancers can degenerate and turn into anaplastic thyroid cancer. The main risk factors for anaplastic cancer include an age greater than 65, history of radiation exposure to the chest or neck, and/or a long-standing goiter (i.e. enlarged thyroid). Unfortunately, anaplastic thyroid cancer is one of the most aggressive cancers in humans and is often lethal. Tragically, the five-year survival from this type of cancer is less than 5%, with most patients dying within just a few months of the diagnosis. However, with new advances in treatment, there has been progress in helping patients with this disease.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.