Anaplastic thyroid carcinoma ranges from 1.3 to 9.8% of all thyroid cancers globally. Mutations, amplifications, activation of oncogenes and silencing of tumour suppressor genes contribute to its aggressive behaviour, and recent studies (e.g. microarrays, microRNAs) have provided further insights into its complex molecular dysregulation. Preclinical studies have identified numerous proteins over- or underexpressed that affect critical cellular processes, including transcription, signalling, mitosis, proliferation, cell cycle, apoptosis and adhesion, and a variety of agents that effectively inhibit these processes and tumour growth. In clinical studies of 1771 patients, 64% were women, the median survival was 5 months, and 1-year survival was 20%. The variables associated with survival in some series included age, tumour size, extent of surgery, higher dose radiotherapy, absence of distant metastases at presentation, co-existence of differentiated thyroid cancer and multimodality therapy. However, considerable bias exists in these non-randomised studies. Although more aggressive radiotherapy has reduced locoregional recurrences, the median overall survival has not improved in over 50 years. Newer systemic therapies are being tried, and more effective combinations are needed to improve patient outcomes.
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