YOUR HEALTH: Removing the thyroid and hiding the scar

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CHICAGO, Illinois – 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."

Last year, Mary was diagnosed with Graves' disease: a thyroid condition that causes her eyes to bulge.

Finally, Mary 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. 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," explained Dr. Grogan.   "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."

Surgeons then 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," said Dr. Grogan.   "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, feels better than ever.

"It's done wonders for me."

NEW TECHNOLOGY:  Standard surgery to remove the thyroid usually results in a two-inch visible throat scar.  A new procedure done through the mouth is now allowing patients to leave with very minimal scarring that isn`t visible.  A handful of U.S. experts are now making small incisions on the inside of the lower lip, midline and on each corner to gain access to the neck with laparoscopic instruments.  Surgeons then work underneath the skin to access the thyroid and remove it through the incision in the mouth.  There is still a scar, however, it`s on the inside of the mouth and sometimes it can heal so well that a year later it is not noticeable.  Patients may experience a sore throat for several days, but complications are rare compared to the open surgery option.  The procedure was first developed in Thailand.

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

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.