Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer

Key Clinical Characteristics

  • Anaplastic thyroid cancer (ATC) is the rarest form of thyroid cancer, accounting for 1-2% of all thyroid cancer diagnoses. There are approximately 400-500 cases of ATC diagnosed annually in the United States. 
  • Patients with ATC generally present with a rapidly enlarging mass in the neck.
  • Patients with ATC may experience difficulty breathing (due to tracheal invasion), coughing, changes or difficulty with swallowing, a change in their voice or hoarseness.  
  • Due to the aggressiveness of this cancer, ATC patients require urgent diagnostic evaluation and treatment planning by an experienced team of thyroid cancer specialists.

Basics of Disease Management

  • Anaplastic thyroid cancer is sometimes diagnosed from a fine needle aspiration biopsy but more commonly an excisional or core biopsy is needed to make a definitive diagnosis.
  • Diagnostic evaluation by experienced endocrine pathologists is recommended due to the rarity of the disease and difficulty in making an accurate diagnosis. Furthermore, ATC can have many different synonyms such as “undifferentiated,” “sarcoma,” “sarcomatoid,” “squamous type,” and “spindle cell” thyroid cancer.
  • ATC patients often have disease that is advanced and a complete surgical resection may not be possible. It is important to have expert evaluation by a thyroid surgeon to make this decision.
  • External beam radiation therapy is an important modality for patients with unresectable disease.
  • Thyroid cancer treatment should be individualized by a team of specialists to ensure the best possible outcome.
  • BRAF mutations are the most common mutation found in ATC tumors. Testing of the tumor to determine if there are genetic mutations which can be targeted with chemotherapy should be considered.

Participation in Clinical Trials

  • All patients with ATC should consider participating in clinical trials if feasible.
  • Physicians that specialize in care of patients with advanced thyroid cancer can help identify whether you may be an appropriate candidate for participation in a clinical trial.
  • Patients may also search for clinical trials by using the webiste:


International Thyroid Oncology Group
5166 Commercial Drive
Yorkville, New York 13495