Advanced thyroid cancer surgery leaves no visible scar

When thyroid cancer treatment requires surgery, many patients dread having a large horizontal scar on their windpipe. However, a recently developed surgical technique may assuage some of those fears.

Called a da Vinci thyroidectomy, the procedure leaves no visible scar and may be performed in nearly the same amount of time as a typical thyroid removal operation, KABC-TV Los Angeles reports.

In the U.S., more than 45,000 cases of thyroid cancer are diagnosed every year, according to the American Cancer Society.

The new procedure, which the news source said was recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, involves a small incision made under the armpit, into which small robotic hands and a 3D camera are placed. The devices are just millimeters across.

These instruments are then threaded beneath the skin up to the neck, where the surgery takes place. Surgeons manipulate the instrument's operating hands, removing some or all of the affected gland.

A study published in the journal Surgical Endoscopy found that the procedure takes a little more than two hours on average, and that patients were typically able to return home after three days of hospital recovery.

A similar study published in 2009 determined that the technique tends to give surgeons a better view of the thyroid gland, lymph nodes and salivary glands, compared to conventional open procedures.

It added that surgeons were able to preserve the function of the recurrent laryngeal nerve (RLN) in all cases, while maintaining minimal blood loss.

Damage to the RLN during thyroidectomies may be responsible for hoarseness or even the inability to speak, depending on the seriousness of the nerve destruction.

Women who underwent da Vinci thyroidectomies told the news source that they were quite happy with the surgery and the lack of scarring on their necks.

Approximately one in 111 Americans will be diagnosed with thyroid cancer in their lifetimes, according to the National Cancer Institute.