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Surgery. 1992 Jun;111(6):604-9.

Reoperative thyroid surgery.

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Department of Surgery, Mt. Zion Medical Center, University of California, San Francisco 94120.



Patients with thyroid cancer are sometimes denied repeat thyroid operations for fear of an increased risk of complications.


We therefore reviewed our experience in 114 patients with benign or malignant thyroid tumors who underwent 116 thyroid reoperations with or without other procedures. All patients had undergone at least one prior thyroid operation and 16 patients had undergone from two to four thyroid operations before referral. The initial histologic diagnosis before reoperation was thyroid carcinoma in 79 patients, papillary carcinoma in 47 patients, follicular carcinoma in 17 patients, medullary carcinoma in 9 patients, and Hürthle cell carcinoma in 6 patients. Benign disease was present in 35 patients. In 62 patients with cancer, reoperations were performed because of suspected persistent or recurrent disease; one of these patients underwent two reoperations by us. In 17 patients reoperation was to complete total thyroidectomy, primarily so that radioactive iodine could be used to scan for and treat metastatic disease.


Among the 116 reoperations, 102 were completion total thyroidectomy, 8 were near-total or subtotal thyroidectomy, and 6 were completion lobectomy. Histologic examination at reoperation revealed thyroid carcinoma in 51 cases (64%) among the 79 patients who had undergone 80 operations for previous thyroid cancer. Recurrent or persistent cancer was present in 49 of 63 (78%) reoperations for patients with papillary, medullary, and Hürthle cell cancer but in only 2 of 17 (12%) patients with follicular cancer. Cancer also occurred in 8 cases (22%) of the 36 reoperations in 35 patients who initially had benign lesions. Complications included one permanent and one transient palsy of the recurrent laryngeal nerve; both occurred on the side of a previous partial or subtotal lobectomy. Other complications included temporary hypoparathyroidism in four patients, seromas in two patients, and a keloid in one patient.


This study documents that reoperations can be performed with minimal morbidity. Thus patients should not be denied the chance to undergo removal of a persistent tumor or the remnant normal thyroid tissue because of the fear of complications.

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