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Medical Intel

Apr 30, 2019

Transoral thyroid surgery is a procedure we use to remove thyroid nodules by going through the mouth, as opposed to making incisions in the neck. Dr. Erin Felger discusses who’s a candidate and what recovery is like.



Intro: MedStar Washington Hospital Center presents Medical Intel where our healthcare team shares health and wellness insights and gives you the inside story on advances in medicine.

Host: We’re speaking with Dr. Erin Felger, an endocrine surgeon at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. Thank you for joining us today, Dr. Felger.

Dr. Felger: Thank you for having me.

Host: Today we’re discussing transoral thyroid procedures, or thyroid surgeries done through the mouth instead of through open incisions in the neck. Dr. Felger, why would a doctor recommend a transoral thyroid procedure instead of a traditional approach?

Dr. Felger: The main reason that someone would offer a transoral procedure to their patient or an endocrinologist would offer to have a patient seen for transoral procedures is because of scar issues. These can be scar issues related to a medical problem like hypertrophy or keloid, which a number of people in our population have, or scar issues that are psychological, in that nobody wants to have a scar on their neck.

Host: What symptoms do patients share with their doctors that ultimately lead to a diagnosis of thyroid issues?

Dr. Felger: It depends on the type of thyroid issue. The main symptoms that people usually discuss are symptoms of fatigue, constipation, hair loss, skin changes - which are all associated with hypothyroidism, or anxiety, racing heart, heat intolerance - which are due to hyperthyroidism. With respect to surgical issues, the most common symptoms are symptoms related to compression of the thyroid because of its size and they include voice changes, swallowing difficulties or inability to lay flat at night.

Host: What are some of the most common conditions for which the transoral approach is most effective?

Dr. Felger: For most patients, the best reason to have a transoral thyroid approach is, again, for the scar issues. But in terms of actual disease processis, almost any disease process could be taken care of through a transoral approach. The best options are a solitary nodule or a small thyroid cancer, on occasion parathyroids and, very rarely, a large multinodular goiter.

Host: How does the conversation go when you start talking about surgical approaches for your patients?

Dr. Felger: Basically, I start the conversation with explaining why they would be a good candidate for the operation. I also tell them that there is a standard operation so that they hear that there’s another way to do it. And then I go into the details about how many we’ve done, what the procedure is and how it differs in terms of pain control and postoperative care afterwards. And honestly, there isn’t that much that’s different between the two procedures when I’m talking to patients, except for the oral care with the transoral approach. Everything else is very similar.

Host: What does a patient have to do to prepare for surgery?

Dr. Felger: The patient needs to have been seen by the surgeon for their initial consult. And at that time, the surgeon will be giving the patient a list of items that need to be completed prior to the day of surgery. Those usually include labs, EKG, and a preoperative physical at a minimum. The surgeon may require other testing to be done, which might include imaging or a biopsy.

Host: How long is the recovery time after a transoral thyroid procedure?

Dr. Felger: In general, I tell everyone it’s a week, but most patients feel really good after a couple days. But, I also want them to understand that it’s not going to be perfect for a period of time, which is usually around a week, so that’s why I give that as my standard approach. After surgery, patients can expect to have some swallowing difficulty, secondary to the breathing tube. They can expect to have numbness around the mouth where the incisions are placed, as well as on the chin. The chin numbness can last for several months but it does resolve after a period of time which is different for each patient.

Host: What additional treatment or care do patients need after surgery?

Dr. Felger: For transoral patients, they do have to do an oral care regimen until they come back for their first postoperative visit, which just includes a salt water swish and spit after each meal and at bedtime.

Host: Could you share a story of a patient who had a successful outcome?

Dr. Felger: I had a wonderful lady who I saw in my clinic who has terrible hypertrophy with her other scars from other surgeries. She was very concerned about having a scar on her neck that would be visible with this medical problem. She had a nodule that was quite large that needed to be removed. And she and I talked about doing the transoral approach and she was very interested in it. She was hesitant at first to sign up for surgery but ultimately, after discussing with her family, she decided to have the transoral approach. Her surgery went wonderfully and she came back to see me the week after the operation for her first postoperative visit and she was thrilled. She said, “I know that my chin is numb, my mouth doesn’t feel quite right yet. If I had it to do over again, I’d do it this way again. I have no scar on my neck.”

Host: Why is MedStar Washington Hospital Center the best place to seek care for thyroid conditions?

Dr. Felger: We have the best multidisciplinary group in the region. We work with our endocrinologists, our nuclear medicine doctors and our radiologists to provide the most comprehensive care available for any thyroid condition. From the standpoint of doing transoral thyroid surgery, we’re the only hospital in the DC and Maryland area that is doing this procedure. And, again, we have a comprehensive team that we work with so that the transoral procedure can be done as successfully as possible.

Host: Thanks for joining us today, Dr. Felger.

Dr. Felger: Thank you.