What is a thyroid lobectomy?

A thyroid lobectomy, also known as a diagnostic lobectomy, is a surgery which involves removing approximately half of the thyroid gland to treat or diagnose thyroid cancer. During the procedure, your doctor will remove the portion of the thyroid that contains a suspicious nodule.

Who is a candidate for a thyroid lobectomy

A thyroid lobectomy is most effective on patients who have small to intermediate size (up to 1.75 inches) papillary thyroid cancers.

Risks associated with a thyroid lobectomy

A thyroid lobectomy is a complex procedure that requires an experienced surgical team. Complications that may occur include:

  • Heavy bleeding
  • Infection
  • Adverse reaction to anesthesia
  • Nerve damage to laryngeal nerves
  • Damage to the parathyroid glands

What to expect during a thyroid lobectomy

A thyroid lobectomy is an inpatient procedure that requires an overnight hospital stay. You will be instructed to avoid eating or drinking anything after midnight the day before the procedure. Once in the hospital, you will be given general anesthesia, so you sleep through the procedure.

During the surgery, your doctor will make a small incision in the lower neck and carefully remove the portion of the gland that has the suspicious tumor. Due to the complexity of the procedure and the area where the thyroid is located, the entire procedure will take approximately two hours.

After the procedure, you will be moved into a recovery room for monitoring. Once you are stable, you will be moved to a regular hospital room. Once you are stable, you may be discharged — typically 1-2 days after surgery.

In some cases, your doctor may perform a “frozen section”. This involves taking a biopsy of the nodule while you are under anesthesia. A pathologist will examine the thyroid nodule for cancer to make a diagnosis. If cancer is found on the frozen section, you doctor may then perform a total thyroidectomy.

Recovery after a thyroid lobectomy

Although most patients can resume their daily activities after discharge from the hospital, you should wait at least 10 days before participating in any strenuous activity.

Your doctor will give you detailed instructions when you leave that may include:

  • Pain management - you may feel sore after the procedure for up to a week. You can take OTC pain medications, but if those don’t alleviate the pain, call your doctor to request a prescription pain medication.
  • Treating hyperthyroidism - some patients develop hypothyroidism after a thyroid lobectomy. If this occurs, you will be prescribed a medication that balances your hormone levels.
  • Supplements you may need - if you have low calcium level, your doctor may recommend taking supplements.

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