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Acta Otorhinolaryngol Ital. 2009 Dec;29(6):331-8.

Surgical approach to retrosternal goitre: do we still need sternotomy?

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  • 1Otorhinolaryngology Unit, University Hospital of Udine, Udine, Italy.


Retrosternal goitre is defined as a goitre with a portion of its mass > or = 50% located in the mediastinum. Surgical removal is the treatment of choice and, in most cases, the goitre can be removed via a cervical approach. Aim of this retrospective study was to analyse personal experience in the surgical management of retrosternal goitres, defining, in particular, the features requiring sternotomy. Over a 5-year period (2004-2008), 986 patients underwent thyroidectomy in the ENT Department of the University Hospital of Udine, Italy; in 53 patients, 37 females, 16 males (mean age: 64 years, range: 35-85), thyroidectomy was performed for a retrosternal goitre, which extended, at computed tomography at least 3 cm below the cervico-thoracic isthmus. Retrosternal goitres were removed via a cervical approach in 49 patients; a sternotomy was necessary in 4 patients (7.5%), due to an ectopic intra-thoracic thyroid in one patient, and a very large thyroid reaching the main bronchial bifurcation in the other 3 (mean weight of goitres: 883 g, range: 520-1600). Histo-pathological studies revealed a benign lesion in 50 patients and a carcinoma in 2 (3.7%). The incidence of transient and permanent hypoparathyroidism was 13% and 3.7%, respectively. Transient recurrent laryngeal nerve palsy occurred in one patient (1.8%), post-operative bleeding in 3 patients (5.6%) and respiratory complications, requiring a tracheotomy in one case, in 2 patients (3.7%). Surgical removal of a retrosternal goitre is a challenging procedure; it can be performed safely, in most cases, via a cervical approach, with a complication rate slightly higher than the average rate for cervical goitre thyroidectomy, especially concerning hypoparathyroidism and post-operative bleeding. The most significant criteria for selecting patients requiring sternotomy are computed tomography features, in particular the presence of an ectopic goitre, the thyroid gland volume and the extent of the goitre to or below the tracheae carina. In conclusion, if retrosternal goitre thyroidectomy is performed by a skilled surgical team, familiar with its unique pitfalls, the assistance of a thoracic surgeon may be required only in a few selected cases.


Complications; Retrosternal goitre; Sternotomy; Surgical treatment; Thyroid

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