Treatments – Surgery
Surgery or Thyroidectomy
Almost all forms of thyroid cancer are treated with surgery (thyroidectomy), in which some (partial thyroidectomy) or all of the thyroid (total thyroidectomy) is removed. This is done to remove the cancerous cells. If your tumour is very small (< 1 cm), your doctor may recommend routine follow-up instead of surgery.
How much of your thyroid is removed can vary based on several factors, including:
- Size/number of nodules
- Lab results
- Genetics (i.e., If you have a gene for thyroid cancer)
Sometimes, a more complete diagnosis is made after a partial thyroidectomy, and a total thyroidectomy is needed.
If you have a more aggressive form in which cancer spreads to the lymph nodes, these will likely be removed during your thyroidectomy. How much is removed depends on the extent of spread. If you have questions or concerns about the possibility of lymph node removal and what this means, ask your doctor.
What should I do to prepare for surgery?
- Prepare. Stock up on easy-to-prepare foods and comfort foods for your return home after surgery.
- Find a driver. Make arrangements for someone to drive you home.
- Lighten your workload. Make arrangements for a babysitter, dog walker, etc. Be aware that it may take a few weeks to resume your employment.
- Use a special pillow. A ‘dog bone’ or curved pillow may be helpful. Some people find these pillows comfortable to support the neck during recovery time. Others use hot or cold packs to minimize the swelling.
- Pack for the hospital stay. You may need: medications, curved and/or regular pillow, toiletries, slip-on slippers, robe and sleepwear (pajamas or nightgowns that open in the front).
- When you are released, keep track of the notes and prescriptions given to you. Eat soft high-fibre foods. Don’t sit hunched over.
- Minimize your scar. Follow your doctor’s instructions for keeping your incision covered and/or the use of ointments.
- Rest. Recovery usually takes several weeks.
Questions to ask your surgeon in your post-op appointment:
- What type of thyroid cancer do/did I have?
- How many thyroid cancer nodules did I have in my thyroid gland, and what was the size of each?
- How many lymph nodes were removed during the surgery, and from which part of the neck? How many of those were cancerous?
- What are my chances for recurrence?
- Which follow-up procedures will I require?
- Which doctor are you referring me to see for follow-up on a regular basis for life?
- What is my initial dose of hormone replacement?
Write your questions down in advance and bring a friend/relative to help you absorb the information. Ask for a copy of the pathology report from your surgery and start a file of your reports.