Q&A: Anaplastic thyroid cancer

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with anaplastic thyroid cancer, it may be hard to find others who’ve received the same diagnosis. That’s because anaplastic thyroid cancer is only diagnosed in about 500 to 800 patients in the United States each year — most age 60 or older. And, because anaplastic thyroid cancer is extremely rare, there’s limited reliable information on this disease. To help, we spoke with Maria E. Cabanillas, M.D. Below, she explains the basics of anaplastic thyroid cancer diagnosis and discusses the latest treatment advances. How is anaplastic thyroid cancer diagnosed? Anaplastic thyroid cancer is typically diagnosed by removing and examining a small sample of a patient’s tissue, known as a biopsy. But because biopsied cells can appear in a variety of shapes and forms, diagnosis can be difficult and often inaccurate. The pathology report may not always use the words “anaplastic thyroid cancer.” If you see another term, such as “undifferentiated,” “dedifferentiated,” “sarcoma of the thyroid,” “sarcomatoid,” “squamous,” “spindle cell” or “giant cell” on the report, you may want to seek a second opinion from an thyroid cancer expert before starting treatment. How is anaplastic thyroid cancer typically treated? When the tumor is isolated to the thyroid gland, we find the most success with surgery. But anaplastic thyroid cancer spreads quickly, and surgery is often not an option. In these cases, the treatment is usually radiation to the neck. It can be administered with chemotherapy to make it more effective. In patients who’ve had surgery, radiation is used to prevent the cancer from returning. In those who haven’t had surgery, radiation is...

Multiple myeloma survivor finds hope, empowerment in clinical trials

Gary Rudman began experiencing severe lower back and leg pain in early 2013, just a few years after he retired from the U.S. Air Force. His doctors thought it was a bulging disc, so they treated him with steroid injections. When the issue still wasn’t resolved a year later, Gary saw a pain management specialist. That doctor thought he had a torn piriformis muscle and ordered an MRI. But the scan revealed Gary actually had a softball-sized tumor in his pelvis. It was a form of cancer called isolated solitary plasmacytoma of the soft tissue, which often precedes multiple myeloma. The search for effective multiple myeloma treatment Gary initially sought treatment near his South Carolina home, but quickly rejected the first recommendation: surgery to remove the tumor. Odds were high that the operation would leave him paralyzed, incontinent or both — and Gary’s surgeon had performed the procedure only once before. “I didn’t want to do that,” Gary says. “It was out of the question.” Gary’s second opinion took him to Atlanta, Georgia. He received two separate rounds of radiation therapy, but it failed to shrink his tumor. At that point, the Air Force veteran began looking for a third option. “The Georgia hematology oncologist said we should just wait and treat it aggressively when it blew up into multiple myeloma,” Gary says. “That answer was not satisfactory.” Webinar expert leads Gary to MD Anderson Then Gary remembered a hematology webinar he’d watched a few months earlier. One of the panelists was Robert Orlowski, M.D., ad interim chair of MD Anderson’s Lymphoma/Myeloma department. Orlowski had shared his email address...