The missing thyroid

Cord Sturgeon, Carlos Corvera, Orlo H. Clark*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Several patients have been referred to our practice after having undergone attempted thyroidectomy, during which the thyroid gland was not found. These patients were reviewed to identify factors associated with failure to identify or adequately resect the thyroid. STUDY DESIGN: Patients referred for a "missed thyroid" between October 1, 1990 and December 31, 2002, were reviewed retrospectively. Seven patients who underwent neck exploration for thyroid cancer (n = 6) or Graves' disease (n = 1) were identified. Surgical indications, history of neck operations, means of recognizing the complication, incision location, and intraoperative and pathologic findings were analyzed. RESULTS: The thyroid was missed on initial exploration in four patients and in the second or third operation in three patients. In three patients, the surgeon misidentified the thymus (two patients) or nodal tissue (one patient) as the thyroid gland. In one patient, the thyroid could not be identified. In one patient, the thyroid was deemed unresectable because of scar tissue. In two patients, an inadequate "near-total" thyroidectomy was performed. In five patients with long necks, the neck incision was too far below the cricoid cartilage. CONCLUSIONS: Failure to identify the thyroid gland at the normal anatomic position was associated with low cervical incisions and a history of earlier neck operations. These findings emphasize the need for improved understanding of thyroid anatomy, embryology, localization procedures, and surgical technique.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)841-846
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of the American College of Surgeons
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery

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