Surgery for thyroid cancer
Surgery is the most common treatment for thyroid cancer. Before the operation, a member of the surgical team and, in some hospitals, a specialist nurse will talk to you about the operation. This is your opportunity to ask questions and discuss any concerns you have.
You will be given a general anaesthetic, and the surgeon will make a small cut (5–7 cm) across your neck. How much tissue is removed will depend on how far the cancer has spread.
Learn more about:
Types of thyroid surgery
Partial thyroidectomyIn a partial thyroidectomy (also called a hemithyroidectomy), only the affected lobe or section of the thyroid is removed. This surgery may be an option if the cancer is small and the other lobe looks normal on the ultrasound. It might also be used to diagnose thyroid cancer if a fine needle aspiration biopsy doesn’t provide a clear diagnosis. If cancer is found after a partial thyroidectomy, you may need further surgery to remove the rest of your thyroid.
Total thyroidectomyMost people with thyroid cancer need to have a total thyroidectomy. This involves removing the whole thyroid (both lobes and the isthmus).
Lymph node removalWith either type of thyroid surgery, nearby lymph nodes may also be removed to help work out staging or if the initial scans show that the cancer has spread to them. This is called a neck dissection. Even if the cancer doesn’t appear to have spread, the nodes behind the thyroid are occasionally removed to reduce the risk of the cancer returning. In very rare cases, the surgeon also removes other tissue near the thyroid that has been affected by the cancer.
Podcast: Making Treatment Decisions
A/Prof Diana Learoyd, Endocrinologist, Northern Cancer Institute, and Northern Clinical School, The University of Sydney, NSW; Dr Gabrielle Cehic, Nuclear Medicine Physician and Oncologist, South Australia Medical Imaging (SAMI), and Senior Staff Specialist, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, SA; Dr Kiernan Hughes, Endocrinologist, Northern Endocrine and St Vincents Hospital, NSW; Yvonne King, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council NSW; Dr Christine Lai, Senior Consultant Surgeon, Breast and Endocrine Surgical Unit, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, and Senior Lecturer, Discipline of Surgery, University of Adelaide, SA; A/Prof Nat Lenzo, Nuclear Physician and Specialist in Internal Medicine, Group Clinical Director, GenesisCare Theranostics, and The University of Western Australia, WA; Ilona Lillington, Clinical Nurse Consultant (Thyroid and Brachytherapy), Cancer Care Services, Royal Brisbane Women’s Hospital, QLD; Jonathan Park, Consumer.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
Coping with cancer?
Ask a health professional or someone who’s been there, or find a support group or forum
Looking for transport, accommodation or home help?
Practical advice and support during and after treatment