What is thyroid surgery?

Surgery is often the first and main treatment for almost all thyroid cancers. Your doctor will use tissue removed during surgery to determine the cancer's type and stage. The type and stage of the cancer helps determine whether you need additional treatment. When you have surgery for thyroid cancer, your surgeon may use one of the following methods.

  • Total thyroidectomy – Removes the whole thyroid gland.
  • Near-total thyroidectomy – This surgery removes nearly all of the gland, but a small part is left behind.
  • Subtotal thyroidectomy – Most of the thyroid gland is removed, but a very small part may remain.
  • Lobectomy – This may be used for some small cancers, in which only the side, or lobe, of the thyroid with the tumor is removed. (The thyroid gland has two sides.) This method may prevent the need to take a thyroid supplement afterward. But having some thyroid left can interfere with some tests that look for cancer that comes back, or recurs, after treatment.

Surgeons today most often do total or near-total thyroidectomies. Your surgeon also may remove the lymph nodes near the thyroid if they are known to have cancer cells in them or if they look abnormal or suspicious. This procedure is called either a central compartment neck dissection or a modified radical neck dissection. It depends on the extent of lymph node removal.

After surgery, you may need treatment with radioactive iodine. This can kill any remaining cancer cells. You may still benefit from additional surgery in the future if the tumor recurs either in the area of the original thyroid tumor, or at another site.

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