A review of thyroid cancer with intermediate differentiation


  • Dr. Sywak's Fellowship is supported in part by the Tom Baker Cancer Center, Calgary and the Mary-Jo Reeve Traveling Fellowship, Sydney Australia.


Background and Objectives

Tall cell (TCV), columnar cell (CCV), insular (IC), diffuse sclerosing (DSPTC) and solid/trabecular are uncommon subtypes of thyroid cancer, which have generally been described in case reports or small series in the world literature. Due to the rarity of these thyroid cancers, their clinical behavior remains incompletely understood. The aim of this review was to pool the currently available clinical information regarding these uncommon thyroid cancers so as to gain a better understanding of their clinical aspects and natural history.


A computer-aided search of MEDLINE (1966–2001, PUBMED website) and CINAHL (1982–2001) databases was performed, as well as a review of the reference section of each primary study was done. All cases of TCV, CCV, DSPTC, solid/trabecular, and IC described in the English medical literature were identified. For the subtypes DSPTC, TCV, and IC, clinical data from the published case series were combined in a weighted analysis. Weighting was based on the number of cases per series. For the CCV and the solid/trabecular variant, due to the small number of cases, raw figures for the clinical features were obtained.


DSPTC (n = 65) appeared to have a tendency for intra-thyroidal extension (40%) and a high propensity for nodal metastates (68%). The mean overall tumor related mortality was similar to well differentiated thyroid cancer (WDTC) at only 2% at 8 years follow-up. The solid/trabecular variant was seen in 37% of the radiation induced thyroid tumors of the Chernobyl accident. It had a high propensity for extrathyroidal extension, and cervical lymph node metastases were found in up to 83% of patients. Unlike WDTC, TCV (n = 209) was a more aggressive tumor, associated with distant metastases in 22% of cases and had a mean tumor related mortality of 16%. The histological diagnosis of TCV was a poor prognostic factor regardless of patient age or tumor size. The CCV (n = 41) had a high overall mortality rate of 32%. When encapsulated, however, CCV had an excellent prognosis similar to that found in WDTC. In contrast, CCV tumors that were not encapsulated had extrathyroidal spread in 67% and had distant metastases in 87% of patients. The variant of IC (n = 213) appeared to be an aggressive subtype of thyroid cancer. The mean loco-regional recurrence and/or distant metastases rate was 64% and tumor related mortality was high at 32%.


DSPTC, TCV, CCV, and IC are thyroid cancer subtypes, which have a biological aggressiveness, which appear to be intermediate between that of WDTC and poorly differentiated anaplastic thyroid cancer. J. Surg. Oncol. 2004;86:44–54. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.