Objectives/Hypothesis: In patients who present with advanced anaplastic thyroid cancer, airway management is difficult because of bilateral vocal cord paralysis or tracheal invasion by the tumor. Airway management can be extremely complex in these patients.
Study Design: This is the author's 25 year experience with 30 patients who presented with anaplastic thyroid cancer and acute airway problems.
Methods: The patients' airway issues developed soon after presentation or a few months after treatment. Ten patients presented with initial symptoms of acute airway distress. All of these patients were treated with tracheostomy or cricothyrotomy.
Results: The 10 patients who presented with initial symptoms of acute airway distress died within 4 months. Eight of the remaining 20 patients developed bilateral vocal cord paralysis. Airway management for these patients depended on the extent of distant disease and the family's understanding of the advanced nature of the disease and the palliative efforts. The remaining patients had a palliative and supportive approach.
Conclusions: Airway management was the most critical issue in patients who presented with anaplastic thyroid cancer and initial airway distress. Cricothyrotomy was helpful in avoiding acute airway catastrophe. It is important to distinguish between poorly differentiated and anaplastic thyroid cancer and lymphoma for appropriate airway management.