Background: Anaplastic carcinoma of the thyroid (ACT) rarely can be cured, but every effort should be made to improve prognosis and, above all, prevent death due to suffocation or large local tumor ulceration.
Methods: From 1984 to 1992, 33 consecutive patients with ACT were treated prospectively according to a combined treatment program consisting of hyperfractionated radiotherapy, doxorubicin, and debulking surgery. Preoperative radiotherapy was administered to a target dose of 30 Gy and postoperatively to a total dose of 46 Gy. Radiotherapy was performed 5 days a week. The daily fraction was 1.0 Gy x 2 until 1988, after which it was 1.3 Gy x 2. Otherwise, the therapy remained unchanged. Twenty milligrams of doxorubicin were administered intravenously per week. Debulking surgery was possible in 23 patients (70%).
Results: No patient failed to complete the protocol because of toxicity. There were no signs of local recurrence in 16 patients (48%). In only eight patients (24%) was death attributed to local failure. In four patients, survival with no evidence of disease exceeded 2 years. Improvement in local tumor control was marginally significant (P = 0.08) in the 17 patients treated in the latter part of the study, with no sign of local disease in 11 patients and deaths due to local failure in only 2 patients. The improved local control could not be attributed to any differences between the two series.
Conclusion: Combination modality treatment of ACT is feasible and effective despite the patients' advanced age and locally advanced disease. There was a tendency for local control to be improved after accelerated radiotherapy.