Thyroid Surgery: Better Care for Better Looking Results

For those who fear or face cancer of the thyroid—the tiny gland in the front of the throat that regulates the body’s hormones—medical specialists have an important message: Take heart.

“Only about 10 percent of the lumps or nodules detected in the thyroid area turn out to be cancer,” says Jennifer Rosen, MD, FACS, chief of Endocrine Surgery at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. “And even when advanced at the time of discovery, thyroid cancer is very treatable and often curable.”

While the numbers affected by the disease has tripled over the past three decades, that’s largely due to refinements in diagnostic technology. In fact, symptoms of thyroid cancer are few and far between, with such vague complaints as trouble swallowing, a change in voice or a lump or swelling in the neck. Risk factors are rare as well, consisting of a family history of the disease or exposure to high levels of radiation. Women are also much more likely to be affected than men.

As a result, most people have no idea they even have a problem until their doctor notices a nodule during a routine check-up, or an x-ray uncovers something suspicious.

“To help with diagnosis, we use advanced, state-of-the-art ultrasound to detect tiny thyroid nodules, many of which escaped notice by yesterday’s less sensitive technology,” Dr. Rosen says. “Depending on the size of the tumor, we may then proceed with an ultrasound-guided needle biopsy, a sophisticated procedure that requires a depth of expertise and experience for the best results.”

And if cancer is the answer, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ treatment, with different options depending upon the size of the tumor and whether lymph nodes are involved. Some form of surgery typically produces the best therapeutic result. But how it is performed and by whom can make a huge difference in cosmetic outcome. 

“We do everything possible to prevent scarring,” explains Dr. Rosen. “That includes using minimally invasive surgical techniques, making incisions low in the neck using ‘melt away’ sutures and a special skin glue. Of course, it also helps that, as thyroid specialists, we’re very comfortable working with the delicate skin on that part of the body.”

After thyroid cancer surgery, most patients return almost immediately to their regular lives.

“While all patients will need lifelong medication and monitoring,” concludes Dr. Rosen, “they can still expect to live a good, long life after cancer.”

Tune in to the full podcast interview with Dr. Rosen.


Hypothyroidism: A Common Misdiagnosed Condition

Tired? Can’t focus? Mood swings? Your thyroid gland could be to blame. Hypothyroidism— an underactive thyroid—can trigger these symptoms.

Doctors say it’s one of the most misdiagnosed conditions.  Dr. Kenneth Burman, who is endocrinology chief for MedStar Washington Hospital Center, says hypothyroidism affects up to 10 percent of the U.S. population.

It is frequently misdiagnosed, because the symptoms are non-specific and easily mistaken for other health problems, according to Dr. Burman. 

In its earliest stages, hypothyroidism may cause no symptoms or vague symptoms, because it often develops gradually. But as thyroid hormone production decreases, the body’s metabolism begins to slow, resulting in fatigue and weakness, often with unintentional weight gain, sleepiness, inability to concentrate and depression.

Bianca Harris, an Environmental Services aide at the Hospital Center, was diagnosed with a thyroid condition 10 years ago. She advocates for testing when relevant symptoms occur. “If you are having anxiety, depression, mood swings, or memory issues, it may be time to get your thyroid checked.”

If your health care professional suspects hypothyroidism, the condition is fairly simple to diagnose.  A TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) test, in conjunction with assessment of thyroid hormones T4 and T3, measures whether the thyroid gland is functioning normally. 

Hypothyroidism is common in women, particularly those over age 50. However, teenagers, children and even infants can be affected by this condition. “It is especially important to make sure a pregnant woman is not hypothyroid,” adds Dr. Burman. “Untreated hypothyroidism, even a mild version, may contribute to pregnancy complications.”

If you think you have a thyroid condition, it is always wise to discuss what you are experiencing with your health care professional.

Have any questions?

We are here to help! Contact us for more information about hypothyroidism or to schedule an appointment. Call us at 202-877-3627.

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