Partial Versus Total Thyroidectomy

Last Modified: August 14, 2012


What is the difference between a total thyroidectomy and a partial thyroidectomy? What are the side effects of each? Where will the incision be made, how large will my scar be? Do I need a plastic surgeon? How long will I be in the hospital after surgery and when can I go back to work?


Rachel Kelz, MD, MSCE, at Penn Medicine responds:

Partial thyroidectomy involves the removal of a part of the thyroid (usually a half.) It is most commonly performed as an outpatient. People generally return to work 3-5 days after surgery but some take as many as 2 weeks off. Bleeding, infection and hoarseness and hypothyroidism can occur following thyroid lobectomy. The 1st three are uncommon but hypothyroidism requiring thyroid hormone replacement can occur in 20-25% of patients. The incision is made in line with a skin crease in the lower neck. The incision is between 1-3 inches in general. A plastic surgeon should not be required if your surgeon is conscientious.

A total thyroidectomy involves the removal of 95-100% of the thyroid. The risks include bleeding, infection, hoarseness, low blood calcium levels and tracheostomy. You will require thyroid hormone replacement for life. The other risks are VERY uncommon (<1-2%.) Many people take 10 days -2 weeks off from work. The majority of patients are admitted overnight following the procedure.

This question and answer was part of OncoLink's Brown Bag Web Chat Series. View the entire transcript of Focus on Thyroid Cancer.



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From the National Cancer Institute