Breakthrough thyroid surgery leaves no scar

HOUSTON – For millions of Americans, thyroid trouble has a big impact on their quality of life. The thyroid is a tiny gland in the throat that has a big impact on our health; producing hormones that are critical to metabolism, heart and digestion.  

When there's a problem with the thyroid, surgery is sometimes the best option, but it's a procedure that can leave a two-inch visible throat scar. 

Now there are new procedures for people wanting to remove the thyroid but avoid the scarring.

MD Anderson said they have a large series of scarless thyroid removal cases where the incision is hidden in the armpit. Across the country, other doctors make incisions near the breast or even remove the thyroid through the mouth.

Mary Bowman is a college professor once diagnosed with Graves’ disease, which causes her eyes to bulge, and eventually interfered with grading papers.

"It got to be a headache, with the double vision,” Bowman said.

She and her doctor decided her thyroid needed to come out, but she had always been afraid she'd have a nasty scar.

"He said that they had a new procedure that you go through the mouth, and I couldn't believe it. I'm like, ‘There's no way,’” Bowman said.

University of Chicago surgeon Raymon Grogan uses this technique.

"The first thing we do is make three small incisions on the inside of the lower lip. Those incisions are midline, and then on each corner of the mouth in order for us to gain access to the neck with laparoscopic instruments,” Dr. Grogan said.

Surgeons then work underneath the skin to access the thyroid, and remove it through the incision in the mouth.

"There still is a scar, it just happens to be in the inside of the mouth. Those scars on the inside of the mouth tend to heal up so well that after a year you can't even find them,” he said.

Bowman had a sore throat for several days, but was back to work shortly after surgery and now says she feels better than ever.

"It's done wonders for me,” she said.

Here in Houston, MD Anderson offers scarless thyroid surgery, but not the same through-the-mouth technique.

Dr. Nancy Perrier, chief of surgical endocrinology at MD Anderson, said the long-term outcomes for thyroid cancer treated with scarless surgery are not yet known.

One big risk to point out, Dr. Perrier said the scarless approach can cause numbness which extends from the site of the incision to the thyroid gland. Long term, this can affect quality of life.