Thyroid Cancer Questions & Answers

Every year in the United States there are nearly 20,000 newly diagnosed cases of thyroid cancer. While there are several types of Thyroid Cancer, the most common types are called Papillary Carcinoma and Follicular Variant of Papillary Carcinoma. Other forms include Medullary Carcinoma, Huurthle Cell Carcinoma (a variant of Follicular Carcinoma), and Anaplastic Carcinoma. Fortunately, most thyroid tumors are benign, but many will require an operation to know that with certainty.

While radiation will sometimes be used as part of the treatment plan for a patient with Thyroid Cancer, surgery remains the single most important aspect of treatment. Though some forms of Thyroid Cancer can be life threatening, the overwhelming majority of patients with the more common types of Thyroid Cancer will be cured of their disease if given early and appropriate surgical treatment by an experienced thyroid surgeon. We encourage you to browse through some commonly asked questions put to us by thyroid cancer patients.

Q: How long will the operation take?
A: Usually less than an hour. If the cancer has spread elsewhere within the neck sometimes an additional 45 minutes to an hour will be required.

Q: How long will I be in the hospital?
A: This surgery is almost always done as an outpatient or as an overnight observation patient.

Q: Will I have a scar?
A: Yes. It is not possible to perform surgery and not leave a scar. Fortunately, however, the incision is usually relatively small and it runs in the same direction as the natural lines of the skin. Also, the wound is closed with the latest plastic surgery techniques, keeping scarring to an absolute minimum. Some patients form more scar tissue than others. Your genetics have an influence on scarring. Remember, the doctor makes the incision, the patient makes the scar.

Q: What are the complications of thyroid surgery?
A: All surgery carries with it some risk, but thyroid surgery, when performed by an experienced Head and Neck Surgeon, has an extremely low complication rate. Certainly, all the risks seen in any surgery, such as infection and bleeding, can occur in thyroid surgery, but the risks that are particular to this type of work are (1) the unlikely possibility of damage to the nerves of the vocal cords and voice box and (2) damage to the parathyroid glands that could result in low calcium levels in the blood, either on a temporary or permanent basis.

Q: Is it painful?
A: Most patients compare the discomfort following thyroid surgery with the discomfort of having had a tooth pulled. Some patients never take a pain pill, and others will request some, this will vary from patient to patient. It seems safe to say, however, that thyroid surgery is not a particularly uncomfortable ordeal.



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