Surgery without scars: How transoral thyroid surgery is changing lives

This content is sponsored by MedStar Washington Hospital Center

Ever notice a bump or lump on your neck? Sometimes these can be an abnormal growth of thyroid cells within the thyroid gland. Often these growths are noncancerous, but if surgical intervention is needed, there is a technique that can yield results without visible scars.

The thyroid, a central gland of the endocrine system, produces hormones that control metabolism. Sometimes the thyroid has growths, called thyroid nodules, which can be troubling (nine out of 10 nodules are noncancerous, according to the American Thyroid Association). Thyroid nodules that are known or thought to be cancerous typically are treated with thyroid surgery. While traditional thyroid surgery involves making open incisions in the neck, transoral thyroid surgery removes the thyroid by going through the mouth.

So why go through the mouth instead of the neck?

“The reason is scar issues,” said Dr. Erin Felger, an endocrine surgeon at MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

Going through the mouth allows patients to avoid not only incision scars but also hypertrophic and keloid scars, which occur when scars thicken because of an abnormal response to trauma or injury. Also, there are more psychological reasons, in that patients don’t want to have a scar on their neck, Dr. Felger said.

In addition to benefits that come with no scarring, transoral thyroid surgery has an excellent recovery time of one week, “but most patients feel really good after a few days,” Dr. Felger said.

“I want them to understand that it’s not going to be perfect for a period of time, which is around a week, which is why I give that as my standard talk,” she said, adding that after surgery patients can expect to have minor difficulties for the next few months, including difficulty swallowing and numbness around the mouth and chin where the incisions were made.

When Dr. Felger discusses thyroid surgeries with her patients, she said she explains to them why they would be a good candidate for the operation and about the upsides to considering transoral thyroid surgery.

“Honestly there isn’t that much that’s different between the two procedures when I’m talking to patients except for the oral care when I’m talking about the transoral approach. Everything else is very similar,” Dr. Felger said. Those oral care techniques include swishing with salt water after each meal and before bed, she added.

MedStar Washington Hospital Center is home to “the best multidisciplinary group in the region,” Dr. Felger said, which makes it worth considering for any thyroid surgical needs.

“We work with our endocrinologists, our nuclear medicine doctors and our radiologists to provide the most comprehensive care available for any thyroid condition,” Dr. Felger said. “From the standpoint of doing transoral thyroid surgery, we are the only hospital in the D.C. Metro area that is doing this procedure and we have a comprehensive team that we work with so that the transoral procedure can be done as successfully as possible.”

For more insights from Dr. Felger, including a podcast, click here.

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