Radiation therapy (RT) plays an important role in locoregional tumor control for anaplastic thyroid cancer (ATC). Due to its rarity, RT guidelines for ATC are lacking. We describe ATC patterns of nodal disease at presentation and progression and propose corresponding RT target volumes.

Methods and Materials

We identified all patients with ATC treated at our institution with definitive or adjuvant intensity modulated radiation therapy and concomitant chemotherapy from 2006 to 2020. We identified in-field, marginal, and out-of-field sites of locoregional recurrence and progression (LRR).


Forty-seven patients met inclusion. Median follow-up was 6.6 months (interquartile range, 1.9-19.6). Nodal levels involved at presentation included: IB (2.1%), II (23.4%), III (21.3%), IV (21.3%), V (12.8%), VI (34%), and mediastinal (6.4%). All patients received elective nodal RT to levels II-IV and VI. RT volumes also included: IA (23.4%), IB (44.7%), V (87.2%), retropharyngeal/retrostyloid (RP/RS) (27.7%), and mediastinal 1 to 6 (53.2%). Cumulative incidence of LRR at 3- and 12-months was 26.1% (95% confidence interval, 15.9-42.8) and 35.7% (23.9-53.4). Isolated LRR risk at 3- and 12-months was 6.5% (2.2-19.8) and 8.9% (3.4-22.9). Fourteen (29.8%) patients experienced in-field LRR in the thyroid gland or postoperative tumor bed, II-IV, VI, and mediastinal 1 and 3A. Four (8.5%) patients had marginal LRRs, 3 of whom progressed in the mediastinum at 2, 3P, 4, and 6. Two (4.3%) patients experienced out-of-field LRRs. Throughout the pretreatment and follow-up period, no patients had disease at IA, and 1 (2.1%) patient each had disease at IB and RP/RS. No baseline or treatment characteristics, including RT dose (stratified by < or ≥66 Gy), were significant predictors of LRR on univariate analysis.


Isolated LRR risk in patients with ATC treated with comprehensive RT and chemotherapy is low. Aggressive multimodality therapy should be reserved for willing, fit patients with no or limited distant disease burden. When treating comprehensively, complete inclusion of mediastinal levels 1 to 6 may be warranted to avoid marginal disease progression. Omission of levels I and RP/RS can be considered.

Read full article: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1879850021002897

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