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Innovative Thyroid Surgery Uses Smaller Incisions

Thyroid surgery is one of those procedures that has been moving from the inpatient to the outpatient suite thanks to innovations in surgical instruments, techniques and training.

Surgeons at Baylor Medical Center at Garland are skilled in minimally invasive thyroid surgery, called endoscopic thyroidectomy, in which the instruments and a tiny camera are passed through small incisions. This technique offers less pain and a faster recovery.

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the front of the neck. Its job is to secrete hormones that control metabolism.

Some common reasons why you might need thyroid surgery are:

  • Thyroid nodules. If they become large enough, around 3 cm, these benign growths can cause trouble breathing and difficulty swallowing.
  • Thyroid cancer. If cancer cells are found on a biopsy, the entire thyroid is removed.
  • Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid).

Depending on the reason for the procedure, doctors can generally “send many patients home three to five hours after their surgery,” says Mark Bailey, MD, a general surgeon on the medical staff at Baylor Garland.

The shorter scars associated with minimally invasive approaches are a huge plus for thyroid patients. Because of the gland’s prominent location, traditional open surgery leaves a telltale scar on the neck that is difficult to hide—unless you wear a lot of scarves or turtlenecks.

“The typical thyroid incision measures 8 to 12 cm, or 3 to 5 inches,” says Dr. Bailey. With the smaller instruments, surgeons can shorten that to less than 1 inch. “Most patients really like that because the incision is a lot less noticeable. After a year, you can barely find it.”

For hyperthyroidism, medication, treatment with radioactive iodine and surgery are the three treatment options. Surgery has been rare, but it may be a more attractive option than it was in the past.

“Because the thyroid can now be removed with a much shorter scar, more patients may opt for surgical treatment rather than radioactive iodine or a lifetime of thyroid medication,” says Dr. Bailey.

Less Pain, More Gain

For a referral to a surgeon on the medical staff at Baylor Garland skilled in minimally invasive procedures, call 1.800.4BAYLOR or search our online directory.