What are surgery options for thyroid cancer?

If the thyroid is cancerous, a surgeon may remove the entire gland as well as the lymph nodes close to the thyroid gland to reduce the risk of metastases, or spread of the cancer to other parts of the body. When surrounding lymph nodes are removed, the operation is called a modified radical neck dissection. After the operation, this area of the neck is usually numb because the nerves to the skin in this area are purposely severed in order to remove the diseased lymph nodes. Other than this numbness, there are no long-term effects of having these lymph nodes removed.

In the rare cases when the thyroid cancer is more advanced, both the left and right sides of the neck must be cleared of lymph nodes. If this is the case, two separate operations are performed about 2 months apart. This delay is to allow time for healing on one side before beginning the operation on the opposite side. Performing the lymph node dissection on both sides at the same time could lead to unnecessary swelling (edema) of the head and face if time is not given in between operations to allow for alternate pathways of blood flow to form in order to drain the head and neck area.

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