Thyroid cancer surgery complications increasingly common

A large population-based study found three groups of patients at most risk of post-operative complications from thyroid cancer surgery.
By Amy Wallace   |   May 16, 2017 at 2:00 PM

May 16 (UPI) -- Thyroid cancer rates are on the rise and so are complications from surgery to treat thyroid cancer, according to a new University of Michigan study.

Researchers followed 22,867 people who had surgery for thyroid cancer between 1998 and 2011 from the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results-Medicare linked database.

The study showed 6.5 percent of thyroid cancer patients had general post-operative complications in the month following surgery and 12 percent had complications within the year after surgery.

"That 12 percent of patients overall had thyroid surgery specific complications is concerning," Dr. Maria Papaleontiou, an assistant professor of metabolism, endocrinology and diabetes at Michigan Medicine, said in a press release. "Most of our surgeons quote a 1 to 3 percent rate. This is quadruple what we had thought."

Researchers reviewed general post-operative complications including fever, infection, blood clots and swelling that occurred within the first 30 days post-surgery, as well as complications specific to thyroid surgery such as hypoparathyroidism, hypocalcemia and vocal cord or fold paralysis.

The study identified three groups in which thyroid surgery complications were more common, including patients older than 65, with advanced thyroid cancer and with co-existing medical conditions.

"Thyroidectomy is considered a fairly safe operation in general, but some populations are more vulnerable and need extra attention in pre- and post-operative care," Papaleontiou said.

The study showed older patients were roughly three times more likely to have complications compared to patients under 65, with 10 percent of older patients having general post-operative complications and 19 percent having thyroid surgery-related complications.

The highest number of complications were linked to advanced disease with 23 percent of patients whose cancer spread to other organs having thyroid surgery-related complications.

The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

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