Thyroid surgery without any scars

April 1, 2010 3:36:12 PM PDT
They're lumps that form at the base of the neck: More than half of all adults will deal with a thyroid nodule during their lives. Sometimes these lumps turn into cancer. Now there's a new way to remove them without leaving a big scar across the neck. Rhonda Holman eats right and exercises, so when she gained more than 30 pounds, she was puzzled.

"One morning I would wake up and not even look like myself," Holman said. "I had looked like I had just blown up to be a different person."

An MRI revealed something unexpected -- a lump or nodule on her thyroid gland.

"I just felt like I was being dragged by this goiter," Holman said. "It was actually taking over my life.

"We're not entirely sure what causes them to develop, but we know they're very common in women," said Dr. Eric J. Lentsch, assistant professor of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

Holman lost her voice and had trouble breathing. Her blood pressure went up, and she was in pain. Since up to 15 percent of thyroid nodules turn out to be cancerous, doctors decided to remove it, this time with a less invasive technique.

"The advantage of the new procedure is we can, instead of using up to a 5 to 6 centimeter incision, use about a 2 centimeter incision," Dr. Lentsch said.

Dr. Lentsch made a tiny incision in Holman's neck, and using a small scope, located the lump. Leaving muscles and nerves intact, he removed it through the tiny hole.

"We've actually taken a gland out that's larger than the incision," Dr. Lentsch said.

Unlike traditional surgery, Holman went home the next day and wasn't left with a big scar across her neck.

"I look at it as another battle that's won," Holman said. "It's gone. It's over."

She's back to her routine -- and her healthy lifestyle.

A needle biopsy is performed before surgery to determine whether a nodule is cancerous and whether the patient needs surgery. Thyroid nodules are up to six times more common in women than men.