Thyroid Surgery

The thyroid gland sits in the front of the neck, between a layer of muscle and the trachea (windpipe). Its main function is to control your body's metabolism. It is very common to have what is called a benign (noncancerous) nodule in your thyroid. If your doctor is concerned about a tumor or cancer in your thyroid gland, your doctor may suggest that you have part or all of your thyroid gland removed. This is either called a thyroid lobectomy (or hemithyroidectomy) and total thyroidectomy.

Your surgeon will coordinate the appropriate care for you with a UI Health endocrinologist. Some people need more treatment even after surgery, such as radioactive iodine. If there are lymph nodes that your doctor is concerned may contain cancer cells, a neck dissection also may be performed to remove these lymph nodes.  

Preoperative Information 

Before surgery, you will meet with your team of health doctors, including the surgeon and endocrinologist. Together, a comprehensive plan is made so that everyone is clear about the goals of surgery and your treatment and care. There are risks to any surgery. Risks for thyroid surgery include but are not limited to: 

  • Low calcium  
  • Damage to nerves that control your "Voice box" (Larynx), causing hoarseness or problems with breathing 
  • A scar on the neck 
  • Hematoma, a collection of blood under the skin in the area the thyroid was removed  

Your doctor will go over these in more detail with you and answer any questions that you have.   

Postoperative Information

Directly after surgery, patients who had a lobectomy may either go home or be monitored for one night in the step-down unit, where nurses will check on them every 2-4 hours. A patient who had a total thyroidectomy usually is monitored at least one night in the step-down unit, where nurses will check on them every 2-4 hours. Most patients stay one to three nights, depending on how their calcium levels look after surgery. A Jackson-Pratt (JP) drain is often placed during surgery to remove excess fluid from the surgical area. See Care After Surgery for more details.