hemithyroidectomy header

Information about this procedure is listed under the following headings:

Why do I need this operation?

What are the intended benefits of the surgery?

How is the surgery performed?

What are the potential risks and how great are these risks?

What am I to expect after the operation?

How long will I be off work/school?

Frequently asked Questions

Why do I need this operation?

A hemithyroidectomy is the removal of one of the lobes (and part of the isthmus) of the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is situated in the lower part of the front of the neck (see picture). There are different reasons for performing a hemithyroidectomy.

1) Suspected thyroid cancer - removal of one of the lobes allows this tissue to be analysed by the laboratory. If it is found to be benign (not cancerous), no further action is taken, If it is found to be malignant (cancerous), the other half of the thyroid is taken out as well.

2) Compression - A nodule in the thyroid may enlarge to such an extent that surrounding structures are compressed in the neck. These structures may include the trachea (windpipe) or oesophagus (gullet).

3) Hyperthyroidism - A nodule in the thyroid gland may produce excessive thyroid hormone.

4) Cosmetic - an enlarged thyroid may cause a lump on the front of the neck that a patient may consider unsightly.

What are the intended benefits of the surgery?

By removing the area of suspected cancer, an accurate diagnosis can be made by sending the specimen to the laboratory after it is removed. In those whose major symptom is compression, thyroidectomy will relieve these symptoms. Where the thyroid gland is producing too much thyroid hormone, a total thyroidectomy will prevent any more hormone being produced and proper levels may be controlled with medication.

How is the surgery performed?

A general anaesthetic is administered. A horizontal skin incision (cut) is made in one of the skin creases in the neck. The thyroid gland is reached by dissection and a lobe is removed. A surgical drain is inserted to allow any blood to drain.

What are the potential risks?

There are many potential risks involved in having a total thyroidectomy and some of these risks are very serious, but it is important to note that these risks are very uncommon.

1) Bleeding - As with any operation, there may be some bleeding from the site of the operation. This is drained using a surgical drain. The amount of bleeding is seldom serious enough to require a return to the operating theatre or a blood transfusion.

2) Scar - The site of the scar (see photograph) following a thyroid operation is low on the neck, and normally shrinks to an extent where is is difficult to see within a few months. If you are from an Afro-Caribbean background, you are at more risk of a keloid scar which may be more unsightly.

3) Damage to recurrent laryngeal nerve - this nerve supplies the vocal cords. If one is damaged during the operation, the result may be a hoarse voice or a weak voice. This may be temporary or permanent. The chance of the nerve being damaged is 1-2%. If the superior laryngeal nerve is injured, there may be difficulty in altering the pitch of your voice. This is seldom permanent.

What am I to expect after the operation?

The length of stay will depend on how well you progress after the surgery. A drain will be required for at least the first night, and when this has stopped draining, it can be removed, after which it is often possible to go home. Usually this is happens on the second day after the operation.

How long will I be off work / school?

The length of time off work is variable and will vary from one to two weeks depending on how soon you get back to normal following your surgery. A doctor's note will be provided.

Frequently asked Questions

Will the scar be very obvious?

The scar is on the front of the neck, but this often settles to become a barely noticeable white line.

Can anything be done if I have an injury to my recurrent laryngeal nerve?

If the nerve does not recover on its own, there are some simple surgical procedures that may be effective in improving your voice.


Last updated: 23 October 2004