Complications of neck dissection for thyroid cancer

World J Surg. 2002 Aug;26(8):1013-6. doi: 10.1007/s00268-002-6670-4. Epub 2002 Jun 6.


Prophylactic and therapeutic neck dissections are used to control or eliminate local nodal disease in patients with thyroid cancer. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the results and complications of neck dissection. From 1992 to 1999 a series of 115 consecutive neck dissections were performed in 74 patients (32 men, 42 women; mean age 48 years) with thyroid cancer and nodal metastases. Operations included central compartment, lateral modified, and suprahyoid dissection with and without total or completion thyroidectomy. Sixty-four percent of the patients had papillary, 4% follicular, and 32% medullary thyroid cancer. Complications included transient hypocalcemia (23%) defined by a postoperative serum calcium level of <2.0 mmol/L (8.0 mg/dl), one neck hematoma (0.9%), and one cardiac death (0.9%). There were no permanent recurrent nerve palsies. Hypocalcemia occurred more frequently when neck dissection was combined with total thyroidectomy than without it (p <0.005). In this group, the incidence of hypocalcemia was higher after central, than lateral, neck dissection. When neck dissection was performed without thyroidectomy, there was no difference in the rates of hypocalcemia between central, lateral, or central with lateral neck dissection (p = NS). Hypocalcemia did not increase with repeated neck dissections (p = NS). Permanent hypoparathyroidism occurred in 0.9%. There were no complications after suprahyoid dissection. The median duration of hospitalization was 1 day. Therapeutic neck dissection or repeated neck dissection can be performed relatively safely in patients with thyroid cancer. Hypocalcemia occurs most frequently when neck dissection is combined with total thyroidectomy.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypocalcemia / etiology
  • Hypoparathyroidism / etiology*
  • Length of Stay
  • Lymphatic Metastasis
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neck Dissection / methods*
  • Postoperative Complications*
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Thyroidectomy / methods*