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Poorly Differentiated Thyroid Carcinoma: A Cytologic-histologic Review

Bongiovanni, Massimo MD*; Sadow, Peter M. MD, PhD; Faquin, William C. MD, PhD

Advances in Anatomic Pathology: September 2009 - Volume 16 - Issue 5 - p 283-289
doi: 10.1097/PAP.0b013e3181b50640
Review Articles

The term poorly differentiated thyroid carcinoma (PDTC) was first proposed in the 1980s, but it was not definitively recognized as a distinct pathologic entity until the most recent classification of endocrine tumors by the World Health Organization in 2004. More recently, as a result of discussions in Turin, Italy, in 2006, diagnostic criteria were made more specific by a consensus of expert thyroid pathologists. The histologic and cytologic aspects are detailed with particular attention to key features helpful in the diagnosis of PDTC, both in surgical pathology and in cytology-based studies. Histologically, insular, solid, and/or trabecular architecture, along with at least one of the following: convoluted nuclei, mitotic activity (>3/10 HPF), or tumor necrosis, are required for a diagnosis of PDTC. Cytologically, the combination of insular, solid, or trabecular cytoarchitectural pattern, single cells, high nuclear to cytoplasmic (N/C) ratio, and severe crowding are highly suggestive of PDTC. Most PDTCs are immunohistochemically positive for thyroglobulin and thyroid transcription factor 1 (TTF-1), and a subset is also positive for p53. On the molecular level, ras mutations are the most common finding. PDTCs are managed aggressively by total thyroidectomy, 131I, and in some cases, external beam radiotherapy.

*Pathologie Clinique, Hôpitaux Universitaires de Genève, Geneva, Switzerland

Department of Pathology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA

Reprints: William C. Faquin, MD, PhD, Department of Pathology, WRN 219, Massachusetts General Hospital, 55 Fruit Street, Boston, MA 02114 (e-mail:

© 2009 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.