Thyroid tumors can sometimes affect the vocal cords. If you are going to have surgery to treat thyroid cancer, a procedure called a laryngoscopy will probably be done first to see if the vocal cords are moving normally. For this exam, the doctor looks down the throat at the larynx (voice box) with special mirrors or with a laryngoscope, a thin tube with a light and a lens on the end for viewing.
A retrospective chart review of a 3-year, single-surgeon experience was performed. Records of patients undergoing thyroid surgery were reviewed for patient voice complaints, prior neck surgery, surgeon-documented voice quality, and results of laryngoscopy.
Preoperative and postoperative laryngoscopy has been recommended for diagnostic and forensic reasons as a standard procedure in all patients who undergo thyroid surgery. The aim of this study was to find a more selective approach by defining patients at risk of developing vocal fold palsy (VFP).
Of 464 patients, 6% had abnormal laryngoscopy findings, including 11 cord paralyses (2%). Preoperatively, 39% of patients had voice complaints, but only 10% had a corresponding abnormality on laryngoscopy. Only 4% of patients had a surgeon-documented voice abnormality with 72% corresponding abnormalities on laryngoscopy, including 8 cord paralyses. When eliminating patient voice complaints and using only history of prior neck surgery and surgeon-documented voice abnormality as criteria for preoperative laryngoscopy, only 1 cord paralysis is missed and sensitivity (91%) and specificity (86%) were high. Also, when compared with routine laryngoscopy, 84% fewer laryngoscopies are performed.
When using patients' voice complaints as criteria for preoperative laryngoscopy, the yield is low. We recommend using surgeon-documented voice abnormalities and history of prior neck surgery as criteria for preoperative laryngoscopy.