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New thyroid procedure leaves no neck scar

January 27, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Some researchers estimate that half the world's population has some type of thyroid issue. This common problem has the most unattractive medical option - neck surgery and nasty scarring. The good news is a newly approved procedure is changing the game.

Kathryn Barley can finally find time to sit down and relax. It wasn't long ago the bump on her thyroid gland caused too much pain for anything at all.

"The nodule moved up above the collarbone and began pressing on the nerves on the side of my neck," Barley said.

Nodes found in the thyroid are fairly common in the U.S. The lifetime risk of developing a significant thyroid nodule is about 5 to 10 percent, and the condition affects more women than men.

Barley did not want surgery for fear of the 3-inch neck scar it would likely leave.

"I just didn't want to be reminded constantly, every morning when I get dressed that I had a scar across here," she said, pointing to her neck.

According to Dr. Amelia Grover of Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center, thyroid surgery is fairly common.

"And it's one of the most common growing endocrine problems requiring surgery," Grover said.

Grover unveiled a new procedure - by cutting underneath the armpit, and then routing to the neck, there would be no visible scar.

"Many women have a difficult time hiding that scar over time, so this allows it to be more of a private matter," Grover said.

The da Vinci robot was recently FDA approved for this specific surgery, using 3-D cameras and robotic arms. While it runs three hours, which is slightly longer than the old neck incision procedure, the benefits are obvious.

Barley was one of the first in the U.S. to have this surgery.

"I think the true mark of a successful surgery is to resume your life, and you forget that you ever had the surgery," she said.

It turned out that her thyroid lump was benign, and in a week, she was back to her old self - no scare, no scar, no problems.

Clinical trials are currently under way to assess the level of confidence gained from this type of surgery. Doctors believe women, especially, will feel more confident in public with no visible surgical scar.

Extra information

THYROID GLAND: The thyroid gland is found in the front part of the neck, right below the larynx (also called the voice box). It is a 2-inch gland with two lobes, each located on a different side of the windpipe and bound by a tissue called an isthmus. Working in a chain of command starting with the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland, the thyroid's main responsibility is to keep the body's metabolism and balance of calcium in check. To perform these functions, it releases iodine-rich hormones called thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), which stimulate all of the body's tissues to produce proteins and augment the intake of oxygen in cells. Working with these hormones is another hormone called calcitonin, which stabilizes the levels of calcium in the body. (Source: University of Maryland Medical Center)

THYROID TUMORS: Thyroid tumors are growths on the thyroid that can be either benign or malignant. A common example of a benign thyroid tumor is an adenoma, which grows on the inner surface of the thyroid gland and secretes thyroid hormone, which can lead to a condition called hyperthyroidism if large quantities of the hormone are released. Cancerous thyroid tumors occur most commonly in individuals who have been treated with radiation in their head, neck or chest. It often begins with the appearance of small growths on the gland called nodules. A cancerous nodule is usually not accompanied by other nodules, and is often solid (as opposed to the fluid-filled benign cysts) and hard to the touch. (Source: University of Maryland Medical Center)

THYROID CANCER: Thyroid cancer has four different forms. The most common and most treatable is papillary thyroid cancer, which constitutes 60-70 percent of all cases of thyroid cancer and is more likely to affect women than men. One possible treatment of this form is a surgical removal of the thyroid, or of the affected section of it. Non-invasive treatments include thyroid hormone therapy, which attempts to prevent the pituitary gland from secreting the cancer causing, thyroid-stimulating hormone, and the use of radioactive iodine to eliminate remaining thyroid tissue. Another form is follicular thyroid cancer, which mostly affects elderly victims and is seen in 15% of all cases of thyroid cancer. This form is known to be particularly aggressive, travelling through the bloodstream to spread among other parts of the body. Its treatment is similar to the treatment of papillary thyroid cancer. The third form is anaplastic thyroid cancer, which also majorly affects the elderly. Anaplastic thyroid cancer is malicious, growing quickly and causing death in 80 percent of its victims. Treatments include surgery, anticancer medications and radiation therapy. The final form is medullary thyroid cancer, which causes an overproduction of calcitonin. This form typically travels through lymphatic system (a component of vessels in the immune system which connect lymphs in various areas of the body), spreads to the bloodstream and ultimately can affect other parts of the body. Medullary cancer is believed to be genetically inherited, so early screening tests are recommended for those with a family history of it. The cancer is treated with a thyroidectomy (surgical removal of the thyroid gland). (Source: New York Thyroid Center; University of Maryland Medical Center)


Malorie G. Janis
Public Relations Specialist
Virginia Commonwealth University
(804) 827-0889