PURPOSE: The purpose of this study was to evaluate the impact of the use of external radiation therapy (ERT) in terms of survival and compliance in patients with anaplastic thyroid carcinoma. MATERIALS AND METHODS: The medical records of 17 patients with anaplastic thyroid carcinoma treated with ERT between 1993 and 2002 were retrospectively reviewed. ERT was administered after surgery in 14 patients and after a biopsy in three patients. Among the 14 patients who had undergone surgery, nine underwent a curative resection and five underwent a palliative resection. Six patients had associated well-differentiated thyroid carcinomas and 14 patients were diagnosed with a tumor size exceeding 5 cm. The radiation dose ranged from 6~70 Gy (median dose, 37.5 Gy). Eleven patients completed the planned course of ERT, whereas six patients did not. The follow-up period ranged from 1~104 months (median, 5 months; mean, 20 months). RESULTS: Five patients started the ERT without the presence of a gross mass and all of the patients completed ERT without a re-growth of tumor. Twelve patients (four patients after a curative resection, five patients after a palliative resection and three patients after a biopsy) started ERT with a gross mass present and only six patients were able to complete the planned course of ERT. Among the six patients who completed ERT, two patients showed a marked regression of the tumor mass, whereas two patients showed slight regression and two patients showed no response. The median survival was five months (range, 1~104 months) and the mean survival was 21 months. The overall survival was 41% at 1-year, 24% at 2-years and 12% at 5-years. Significant prognostic factors included the number of primary tumors present, tumor size, whether surgery was performed and completion of ERT as planned. Long-term survivors showed a tendency of having smaller sized initial tumors and smaller sized pre-ERT tumors than the short-term survivors. CONCLUSION: This study suggests that patients with a small initial tumor (< or =5 cm), which was treated by surgery (curative resection or palliative resection) before ERT, and without rapid re-growth of the mass seen at the surgical site at the beginning of the ERT course, would be the best candidates for postoperative ERT. In contrast, patients with a large initial tumor (>5 cm) and did not undergo surgery before ERT or that rapid re-growth of the mass was observed at the surgical site are likely to have a short survival time, along with the interruption of ERT. In these cases, the role of ERT is very limited and the omission of ERT could be considered.