Poorly differentiated ("insular") carcinoma of the thyroid gland: An aggressive subset of differentiated thyroid neoplasms

Stuart D. Flynn, Barr H. Forman, Andrew F. Stewart, Barbara K. Kinder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

107 Scopus citations


Four patients with a histologically distinctive thyroid carcinoma-which recently has been referred to as poorly differentiated ("insular") carcinoma-are reported. This study confirms the previous conclusions that patients with this neoplasm often experience an aggressive clinical course, with focal recurrences and distant metastases common, which results in death in the majority of patients. Such aggressive behavior may occur even when the insular component accounts for only a small percentage of an otherwise well-differentiated carcinoma, as seen in one of our patients. After subtotal or total thyroidectomy, three of the four patients have experienced local recurrence (1) and metastases to lung (3), mediastinum (1), and bone (1). All three of these patients died within 2 years of the diagnosis of insular carcinoma. The remaining patient is alive without evidence of disease 1 year after total thyroidectomy. Histologically, this neoplasm is characterized by well-defined nests (insulae) that are composed of relatively small, uniform cells and sometimes associated with small, thyroglobulin-containing follicles. Tumor necrosis is often present. Insular carcinoma may comprise the entire neoplasm (2 patients) or be associated with well-differentiated follicular (1 patient) or papillary (1 patient) carcinoma. The rapid and often fatal course associated with insular carcinoma warrants aggressive treatment at the time of initial diagnosis, including total thyroidectomy and node dissection (if involved), as well as possible iodine-131, external beam irradiation and chemotherapy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)963-970
Number of pages8
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1988
Externally publishedYes


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