Anaplastic thyroid cancer is a type of thyroid cancer that is rare and aggressive. It affects the thyroid gland and most especially its function. The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland located on the front of the neck just below the Adam’s apple area. Its function is to regulate metabolism and cellular use of energy. Out of all thyroid cancers reported, anaplastic thyroid cancer only makes up a small percentage ranging from 1 to 5%.
Anaplastic thyroid cancer is diagnosed due to a large lump found in the gland. The lump grows rapidly and may eventually infiltrate the trachea making it difficult for one to breathe. Anaplastic thyroid cancer is also known to be a type of thyroid cancer that can quickly metastasize or spread to other parts of the body. Anaplastic thyroid cancer is most common in men over the age of 65 than in women.
Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer Symptoms
Anaplastic thyroid cancer symptoms include a mass in the neck or thyroid area that often gets enlarged rapidly, coughing, difficulty in swallowing, coughing up blood, hoarseness or change in the voice, and some difficulty in breathing. Anaplastic thyroid cancer is usually treated with surgery to remove the lump or tumor. There are also times that the anaplastic tumor may become attached to the vital structures within the neck or may infiltrate in the trachea, making it impossible to be removed.
Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer Prognosis
When an anaplastic tumor has already infiltrated the trachea or windpipe, a surgery may be needed to insert a tube into the throat to ease breathing. This surgery is called tracheotomy. In some cases, chemotherapy is needed for metastatic disease. However, anaplastic tumors are not responsive to chemotherapy. The prognosis for anaplastic thyroid cancer is poor.
Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer Treatment
Anaplastic thyroid cancer cannot be cured by surgery alone. Most anaplastic thyroid cancer patients opt to completely remove their thyroid gland; however it does not help prolong their lives. The highly advised anaplastic thyroid cancer treatment is radiation therapy combined with chemotherapy. This anaplastic thyroid cancer treatment provides significant benefit. Tracheotomy or a surgery that places a tube into the throat to ease breathing and gastrostomy or a surgery that puts a tube into the stomach to help with eating may also be needed as part of anaplastic thyroid cancer treatment. Some anaplastic thyroid cancer patients also opt to enrol themselves in a clinical trial of new thyroid cancer treatments as an option.
Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer Survival Rate
Possible complications of anaplastic thyroid cancer include spreading of the anaplastic tumor within the neck and spreading of the cancer to other body tissues and organ. Since the prognosis for anaplastic thyroid cancer is poor, only less than 5% patients survive in a span of 5 years. 10% of patients are alive in the first 3 years. However, in most cases, most patients are not able to survive for more than 6 months and 80% do not survive over a year. 25% of anaplastic thyroid cancer patients already have tracheal infiltration that compromises breathing during the initial diagnosis, while 50% of anaplastic thyroid cancer patients have anaplastic thyroid cancer spread to the lungs by the time they are diagnosed.