Emerging technique offers scarless thyroid surgery

The thyroid is a tiny gland in the throat that has a big impact on our health.

It produces 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 2-inch visible throat scar.

A new technique is now making thyroid surgery invisible.

Mary Bowman is a college professor, teaching health information technology; but over the past few years, grading papers has become tougher.

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

Last year, Bowman was diagnosed with Graves’ disease; a thyroid condition that causes her eyes to bulge. Bowman 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,” Bowman said. “I’m like, there’s no way.”

University of Chicago surgeon Raymon Grogan is one of a handful of U.S. experts using the new 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,” explained Dr. Raymon Grogan, director of endocrine surgery research at the University of Chicago.

Surgeons 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,” Grogan said. “Those scars on the inside of the mouth tend to heal up so well that after a year you can’t even find them.”

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

“It’s done wonders for me,” Bowman stated.

Doctors say complications are rare compared to the open surgery. The procedure was first developed in Thailand. For the past 18 months, it has been offered at a handful of U.S. centers with specialized expertise.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Field and Supervising Producer; Gabriella Battistiol, Assistant Producer; Roque Correa, Videographer and Editor.

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