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Management of undifferentiated thyroid cancer.

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  • 1Thyroid Nodule and Oncology Clinical Service, Division of Endocrinology and Molecular Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Kentucky Medical Centre, Lexington, KY 40536-0298, USA.


Management of thyroid carcinoma relies upon the tumour cells maintaining the differentiated functions that are typical of normal thyroid follicular cells, such as: dependence upon thyrotropin for growth, production of thyroglobulin and effective transport of iodine. Likewise, differentiated thyroid carcinomas often exhibit an auspicious clinical behaviour with a slow rate of growth and low potential for invasion and distant metastasis. These features permit therapy of disseminated tumour, effective follow-up surveillance and the assumption of a good prognosis. As each of these features are lost, the opportunities for both disease status assessment and therapeutic intervention diminish accordingly. A major obstacle is our failure to define effective systemic treatments to replace radioiodine therapy, whose loss is consonant with the loss of iodine transport and retention. The extreme of undifferentiated clinical behaviour is epitomized by anaplastic thyroid carcinoma, a rare, terminally dedifferentiated malignancy that is rapidly and invariably fatal. It is important to be attuned to clinical clues suggesting the presence of dedifferentiated tumour and related prognostic signs. This allows the application of currently limited therapeutic options and defines the need for research to develop new systemic treatments.

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