Thyroid Cancer - Share Your Surgery Experience

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Please share your experience with surgery for thyroid cancer.

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Surgery

Most people with thyroid cancer have surgery. The surgeon removes all or part of the thyroid.

You and your surgeon can talk about the types of surgery and which may be right for you:

  • Removing all of the thyroid: This surgery can be used for all types of thyroid cancer. The surgeon removes the thyroid through an incision in the neck. If some of the thyroid tissue can't be removed, it can be destroyed later by radioactive iodine therapy. See the Radioactive Iodine Therapy section.
  • The surgeon may also remove nearby lymph nodes. If cancer has invaded tissue within the neck, the surgeon may remove as much of that tissue as possible. If cancer has spread outside the neck, treatment of those areas may involve surgery, radioactive iodine therapy, and external radiation therapy.

  • Removing a lobe: Some people with follicular or papillary thyroid cancer may have a small tumor removed from only part of the thyroid. The surgeon will remove one lobe and the isthmus. See The Thyroid for a picture of the thyroid lobes and isthmus.
  • Some people who have a lobe removed have a second surgery later on to remove the rest of the thyroid. Less often, the remaining thyroid tissue is destroyed by radioactive iodine therapy.

It's common to feel tired or weak for a while after surgery for thyroid cancer. The time it takes to heal is different for each person.

You may have pain or discomfort for the first few days. Medicine can help control your pain. Before surgery, you should discuss the plan for pain relief with your health care team. After surgery, they can adjust the plan if you need more pain control.

Surgery for thyroid cancer removes the cells that make thyroid hormone. After surgery, most people need to take pills to replace the natural thyroid hormone. You'll probably need to take thyroid hormone pills for the rest of your life. See the Thyroid Hormone Treatment section.

If the surgeon removes the parathyroid glands, you may need to take calcium and vitamin D pills for the rest of your life.

In a few people, surgery may damage certain nerves or muscles. If this happens, a person may have voice problems or one shoulder may be lower than the other.

You may want to ask the doctor these questions before having surgery:

  • Which type of surgery do you suggest for me?
  • Do I need any lymph nodes removed? Will the parathyroid glands or other tissues be removed? Why?
  • What are the risks of surgery?
  • How many surgeries for thyroid cancer have you done?
  • How will I feel after surgery? If I have pain, how will it be controlled?
  • How long will I have to be in the hospital?
  • What will my scar look like?
  • Will I have any lasting side effects?
  • Will I need to take thyroid hormone pills? If so, how soon will I start taking them? Will I need to take them for the rest of my life?
  • When can I get back to my normal activities?
Return to Thyroid Cancer

See what others are saying

Comment from: Ken, 45-54 Male (Patient) Published: March 06

My mother and sisters always had thyroid issues and I consistently had my thyroid levels checked and they were always fine, but I didn"t feel fine. I finally asked for an ultrasound and the doctor said there was no point unless my thyroid was not smooth. After feeling my thyroid, she sent me for an ultra sound. The results came in and she referred me to a surgeon. They did not do a biopsy since the largest nodule was 4.6cm and had to be removed. Surgery was fine and the biopsy took almost two weeks to get back. The endocrinologist said based on the size I likely had it for decades, so very fortunate it was non-invasive. There was debate on if it was cancer or not, but ultimately determined it was, so I took the radioactive iodine. It has been a year and all is good; adjusted medicine a few times and blood work still looks good. I wish I would have pushed to have ultrasound years earlier.

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Comment from: PN, 25-34 (Caregiver) Published: March 13

My cousin has had the fourth surgery as he has thyroid cancer. After almost two month he still cannot eat anything. The tongue cannot propel the chewed food into the throat, and if he by chance could swallow a small piece of food, he would suffer from the stomachache as the acid in his stomach is higher than the amount of food. He has got a kind of intestinal tube for feeding, but the problem of swallowing is still something that he suffers a lot from. His doctor says that it takes 6 months for him to recover since the nerves are not destroyed. I am wondering if there is any device or solution for making the swallowing act possible for him.

Was this comment helpful?Yes

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