What is a thyroidectomy?

A thyroidectomy is the surgical removal of a diseased thyroid gland. Your thyroid gland is located in the front of your neck, below your larynx (voice box). It consists of two lobes, one on each side of your trachea (windpipe). Your thyroid gland plays an important role in regulating your body's metabolism and calcium balance. A thyroidectomy is a treatment for a variety of diseases, disorders and conditions of the thyroid gland.

A thyroidectomy is a common but major surgery with serious risks and potential complications. You may have less invasive treatment options. Consider getting a second opinion about all your treatment choices before having a thyroidectomy.

Types of thyroidectomy

The types of thyroidectomy procedures include:

  • Lobectomy or partial thyroidectomy removes one lobe or only a portion of your thyroid gland.
  • Lumpectomy removes only a small portion of your thyroid gland. This procedure is a treatment for small, benign (non-cancerous) thyroid nodules or cysts.
  • Sub-total or near-total thyroidectomy removes almost all of your thyroid gland, leaving behind a very small amount of thyroid tissue.
  • Total or completion thyroidectomy removes all thyroid tissue. A completion thyroidectomy refers to the removal of any remaining thyroid tissue after you have had a previous lobectomy or partial thyroidectomy.

Other procedures that may be performed

Your doctor may perform other procedures in addition to a thyroidectomy. This includes a lymphadenectomy or the removal or biopsy sampling of lymph nodes. Your doctor may perform this procedure for confirmed or suspected thyroid cancer.

Why is a thyroidectomy performed? 

Your doctor may recommend a thyroidectomy to treat a variety of diseases, disorders and conditions of the thyroid. Your doctor may only consider a thyroidectomy for you if other treatment options with less risk of complications have been ineffective. Ask your doctor about all of your treatment options and consider getting a second opinion before having a thyroidectomy. 

Your doctor may recommend a thyroidectomy for:

  • Benign (non-cancerous) thyroid tumors, nodules or cysts
  • Goiter or an enlarged thyroid gland. Surgery may be recommended for a goiter that interferes with breathing and swallowing.
  • Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland) when radioactive iodine and medications are not options
  • Thyroid cancer
  • Thyrotoxicosis, also called thyroid crisis or thyroid storm, is a sudden worsening of hyperthyroidism that can be life threatening.

Who performs a thyroidectomy?

The following specialists perform a thyroidectomy:

  • Otolaryngologists (ENTs) specialize in the treatment of diseases and conditions of the ears, nose and throat.
  • General surgeons specialize in the surgical treatment of a wide variety of diseases, disorders and conditions.
  • Pediatric otolaryngologists (pediatric ENTs) specialize in the treatment of diseases and conditions of the ears, nose and throat in infants, children and adolescents.

How is a thyroidectomy performed?

Your thyroidectomy will be performed in a hospital or outpatient surgery setting. Your surgeon will perform a thyroidectomy using one of the following approaches:

  • Minimally invasive surgery involves inserting special instruments and an endoscope through a small incision in your neck. An endoscope is a thin, lighted instrument with a small camera. The camera transmits pictures of the inside of your body to a video screen viewed by your surgeon while performing surgery. Minimally invasive surgery generally involves a faster recovery and less pain than open surgery. This is because it causes less damage to tissues and organs. Your surgeon will make small incisions instead of a larger one used in open surgery. Surgical tools are threaded around muscles and tissues instead of cutting through or displacing them as in open surgery.
  • Open surgery involves making a three to four inch incision in your neck. Open surgery allows your surgeon to directly view and access the surgical area. Open surgery generally involves a longer recovery and more pain than minimally invasive surgery. Open surgery requires a larger incision and more cutting and displacement of muscle and other tissues than minimally invasive surgery. Despite this, open surgery may be a safer or more effective method for certain patients.