'Face-lift' approach to thyroid surgery

November 10, 2010 (CHICAGO)

Removing the thyroid used to mean major surgery and a very large, unattractive incision across the neck. However, a new approach takes inspiration from a face-lift to help patients feel and look better after surgery.

La Vallia, 46, Walker loves wearing pretty things. But when doctors told her she needed surgery for a lump in her thyroid gland, she was afraid it wasn't going to be pretty.

"I didn't like seeing a big scar in the front of someone's neck. You could tell they had surgery. That didn't look too good," Walker said.

Thyroid surgery used to mean a long, horizontal scar.

"The conventional way of removing the thyroid is to make a big, what used to be called the 'necklace incision', low in the neck," said Dr. David Terris, surgical director, Thyroid Ctr. at the Medical College of Georgia.

New robotic techniques have opened the door to thyroid surgery without the big neck incision, including an approach that goes in through the armpit.

But Doctor Terris believes a different entry point works even better. It's similar to a face-lift.

"We've moved that incision behind the ear because it shortens the distance we have to travel to get to the thyroid gland and reduced the amount of dissection required to get there," the doctor said.

The so-called "face-lift approach" can mean less pain, fewer complications, and for La Vallia, one other big plus is a scar she can hide under her favorite hairstyle.

"I don't have to have a big scar that I can look in the mirror and see. It's, you know, behind my ear," she said.

Doctors at the Medical College of Georgia believe they are the first to use the face-lift approach to remove the thyroid. The surgery, done under general anesthesia, takes about two hours and is generally covered by insurance.

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