Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Thyroidectomy for suspected cancer (nodule)

4-minute read

What is a thyroidectomy?

The thyroid gland is a structure in your neck that produces a hormone called thyroxine, which regulates your body's metabolism.

A thyroidectomy involves removing all or part of your thyroid gland. Your surgeon may also recommend removing the lymph nodes from around the thyroid gland or in the side of your neck.

Thyroid cancer is a malignant growth that starts in the tissue of the thyroid gland.

Thyroid cancer may spread to the lymph nodes (glands) in your neck, and to other areas of your body such as your lungs or bones. Depending on the type of thyroid cancer, you may need further treatment such as radiotherapy or chemotherapy.

What are the benefits of surgery?

Surgery is recommended so that your doctor can be sure about what is causing the lump.

A thyroidectomy gives you the best chance of being free of cancer. You will no longer have the lump in your thyroid gland and any symptoms caused by the swelling should improve.

The thyroid tissue that your surgeon removes will be examined under a microscope to find out if cancer is present. This will help decide on any further treatment.

Are there any alternatives to surgery?

If cancer is suspected, surgery is the only dependable way of confirming the diagnosis. If cancer is present, surgery also gives you the best chance of being free of thyroid cancer.

What does the operation involve?

The operation is performed under a general anaesthetic and usually takes 1 to 2 hours depending on which type of thyroidectomy you are having.

Your surgeon will make a cut on your neck in the line of one of your skin creases.

Illustration showing a thyroidectomy.
A thyroidectomy.

Your surgeon will remove part, or all, of the thyroid gland. If necessary, they will remove any lymph nodes from around your thyroid gland through the same cut. Sometimes your surgeon may find other problems which they may be able to treat during the operation.

They will stitch the deep tissues and close your skin to leave a neat scar.

What complications can happen?

Some complications can be serious and can even be life-threatening.

General complications of any operation

  • infection of the surgical site (wound)
  • blood clot in your leg
  • blood clot in your lung
  • chest infection

Specific complications of this operation

  • bleeding
  • change in your voice
  • aspiration problems
  • drop in calcium levels in your blood
  • thyroid hormone levels in your blood may drop
  • breathing difficulties

Consequences of this procedure

  • pain
  • unsightly scarring of your skin

How soon will I recover?

You should be able to go home after 1 to 2 days.

You should be able to return to work and normal activities after about 2 weeks, depending on how much surgery you need and your type of work.

Regular exercise should help you to return to normal activities as soon as possible. Before you start exercising, ask the healthcare team or your GP for advice.

Most people make a full recovery and can return to normal activities.

The healthcare team will usually arrange for you to come back to the clinic within 4 weeks but you may have a telephone follow-up appointment. The tissue that your surgeon removed will have been examined under a microscope. Your surgeon will tell you the results and discuss with you any treatment or follow-up you need.

Summary

A thyroid lump can be caused by cancer. A thyroidectomy involves removing all or part of your thyroid gland. This gives you the best chance of being free of cancer, and helps your surgeon to decide if you need any further treatment.


IMPORTANT INFORMATION

The operation and treatment information on this page is published under license by Healthdirect Australia from EIDO Healthcare Australia and is protected by copyright laws. Other than for your personal, non-commercial use, you may not copy, print out, download or otherwise reproduce any of the information. The information should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you. Medical Illustration Copyright © Medical-Artist.com.

For more on how this information was prepared, click here.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: September 2022


Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Types of thyroid cancer | Cancer Australia

There are four main types of thyroid cancer. These are named after the cell type in which the cancer first develops: papillary thyroid cancer is the most common type of thyroid cancer follicular thyroid cancer medullary thyroid cancer anaplastic thyroid cancer (rare).

Read more on Cancer Australia website

Thyroid cancer | Cancer Institute NSW

Thyroid cancer starts in the thyroid gland in the neck

Read more on Cancer Institute NSW website

Thyroid cancer - Better Health Channel

Anyone can develop thyroid cancer, regardless of age or gender.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Thyroid Cancer Symptoms - Cancer Council Victoria

Understand more about thyroid cancer such as the different types, signs & symptoms, risk factors & how common it is.

Read more on Cancer Council Victoria website

Rare Cancers Australia - Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the thyroid gland.

Read more on Rare Cancers Australia website

Thyroid cancer | Causes, Symptoms & Treatments | Cancer Council

What is thyroid cancer? Find out about the symptoms, causes, treatment options and more. Get the facts from Cancer Council here

Read more on Cancer Council Australia website

Thyroid Cancer - Signs, Symptoms and Tests | Head and Neck Cancer Types | Head and Neck Cancer Australia

What is 'Thyroid Cancer'? It is a cancer the affects the thyroid organ in the neck

Read more on Head and Neck Cancer Australia website

Thyroid Cancer - Introduction | Head and Neck Cancer Types | Head and Neck Cancer Australia

What is 'Thyroid Cancer'? It is a cancer the affects the thyroid organ in the neck

Read more on Head and Neck Cancer Australia website

Thyroid Cancer - Treatment | Head and Neck Cancer Types | Head and Neck Cancer Australia

What is 'Thyroid Cancer'? It is a cancer the affects the thyroid organ in the neck

Read more on Head and Neck Cancer Australia website

Thyroglobulin - Pathology Tests Explained

Why and when to get tested for thyroglobulin

Read more on Pathology Tests Explained website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.