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What is a vocal cord evaluation for thyroid cancer?

Dr. Christopher M. Garvey, MD
Ear, Nose & Throat (ENT Specialist)

The thyroid gland rests on a nerve (recurrent laryngeal nerve) that moves your vocal cords.  Some advanced thyroid cancers can invade the recurrent laryngeal nerve causing a weakness or paralysis of your vocal cord and a change in your voice. 

It is important to evaluate the function of your vocal cords before treatment of your thyroid cancer. This is accomplished by visualizing the vocal cords with a special mirror that is placed in the back of your mouth, or with a flexible laryngoscope (small tube with a lighted camera at the end) that is passed through your nose into the back of your throat.

Dr. Ajay K. Sahajpal, MD
Transplant Surgeon

Thyroid cancers can invade the recurrent laryngeal nerve as it passes nearby, which controls the vocal cords. Prior to any thyroid surgery, it is reasonable to evaluate the vocal cords with direct laryngoscopy which can be done at the bedside in a clinic with minimal pain or discomfort.

A vocal cord evaluation determines how well the nerves that go to the vocal cords are working. The evaluation of the vocal cords is done with a flexible laryngoscope (small tube with a camera on the end) in the office. This procedure is called a flexible laryngoscopy. This test will almost certainly be done if you have developed hoarseness or if you have had a previous neck operation.

An evaluation of the vocal cords for thyroid cancer is done with a flexible laryngoscope (a small tube that has a camera on the end) in the office to obtain detailed information and imagines of the movement of the vocal cords. There are cases where advanced thyroid cancers can invade the recurrent laryngeal nerves causing either a weakness or complete paralysis of the vocal cord. This causes a change in the quality of voice.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.