Surgery for thyroid cancer

Surgery is usually the main treatment for follicular and papillary thyroid cancer. The type of operation you have will depend on the size of the cancer and your general health.

Surgery to remove the thyroid gland

Total thyroidectomy

In this operation, the surgeon removes the whole thyroid gland. It is the most common surgery for thyroid cancer. If it is not possible to remove the whole thyroid gland, the surgeon will remove most of it. This is called a near-total thyroidectomy.

If the cancer has started to spread outside the thyroid gland, the surgeon may need to remove some of the tissue in the area around it. Your doctor will discuss this with you before the operation.


In this operation, the surgeon removes the lobe of the thyroid gland that contains the cancer. The isthmus may also be removed.

Sometimes, if the FNA result is not clear, a lobectomy is used to diagnose thyroid cancer. Your doctor or specialist nurse will discuss this with you. If a cancer is found, your doctor may then suggest you have another operation to remove the remaining lobe of the thyroid gland.

Surgery to the lymph nodes

Your surgeon may remove the lymph nodes in the front, or the front and side, of your neck. This is called a neck dissection. It is done to:

  • remove suspicious or cancerous lymph nodes
  • reduce the risk of the cancer coming back.

Removing the lymph nodes will also give your doctor information to help them plan further treatment.

Back to Surgery

Who might I meet?

A team of specialists will plan your surgery. This will include a surgeon who specialises in your type of cancer.

Side effects of surgery

Surgery may cause tiredness, changes to your neck, and changes to the hormone and calcium levels in your blood.

Thyroid replacement therapy

If you have part, or all, of your thyroid gland removed you may need to take thyroid hormone replacement tablets.

Follow-up care after surgery

You will have follow-up appointments after your surgery to check on your recovery and talk about any concerns.