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Surgeons' Experience Matters With Thyroid Removal

Track record best for doctors who perform 25-plus thyroidectomies a year, researchers say

FRIDAY, March 25, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- If you need your thyroid gland removed, choosing a surgeon who performs more than 25 thyroid removals a year might minimize your risks, a new study suggests.

"This is a very technical operation, and patients should feel empowered to ask their surgeons how many procedures they do each year, on average," said study senior author Dr. Julie Sosa, chief of endocrine surgery at Duke University, in Durham, N.C.

"Surgeons have an ethical responsibility to report their case numbers. While this is not a guarantee of a positive outcome, choosing a more experienced surgeon certainly can improve the odds that the patient will do well," Sosa said in a university news release.

The thyroid, located at the base of the throat, produces hormones that regulate your metabolism. Thyroid removal (thyroidectomy) is not uncommon and often done due to cancer or enlargement, Sosa and her colleagues said.

However, 51 percent of surgeons who perform thyroidectomy do this type of surgery just once a year, according to the researchers.

For the study, they looked at data from nearly 17,000 people in the United States who underwent thyroidectomy between 1998 and 2009.

While the researchers only found an association, the risk of complications was 87 percent higher when a surgeon did only one thyroidectomy case a year.

In general, doing fewer procedures was tied to more complications in the study: an 68 percent increased risk of complications was linked with doing two to five thyroidectomies a year; a 22 percent increased risk with 11 to 15 cases a year, and a 10 percent increased risk with 16 to 20 operations a year.

There was no increased risk of complications among surgeons who did more than 25 thyroidectomies a year, according to the study published recently in the Annals of Surgery.

Potential complications include bleeding, parathyroid gland problems, and damage to the laryngeal nerve that can cause speaking, breathing and swallowing difficulties, the researchers said.

More information

The American Thyroid Association has more about thyroid surgery.

SOURCE: Duke University, news release, March 14, 2016

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