Scarless thyroid surgery through the lip

HOUSTON – Roughly 17,000 thyroid surgeries are performed each year.

Many doctors remove the gland through the neck, leaving a highly visible scar.

But a procedure called transoral endocrine surgery pulls the thyroid gland out through a patient’s lower lip leaving no scar, a shorter healing time and a much healthier self-image.

Tracy Faustermann is an energetic young mom, frequently on the road for her job. But recently, Faustermann’s health took a wrong turn.

She first developed achy bones and severe heartburn, followed by high blood pressure, and then, a very strange finding.

“We ran a bunch of tests. CAT scan and all that fun stuff. Nothing came up, except a high calcium reading and I was like, ‘Alright, what’s that about?’" Faustermann said.

Faustermann’s parathyroid gland was the culprit.

“Parathyroids are little glands that are, typically, about the size of a couple of grains of rice,” said Dr. Raymon Grogan, chief of endocrine surgery at Baylor’s St. Luke’s Medical Center and associate professor of surgery at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

One of Faustermann’s glands was in overdrive, robbing her body of precious calcium.

“When you have an overabundance of parathyroid hormone, the body will start leeching calcium from the bones,” Faustermann said.

So, Grogan performed something called transoral endocrine surgery on Faustermann. Three incisions are made in the lower lip. One on the midline and two at each corner of the mouth.

“We tunnel down between the skin and the jawbone and then use laparoscopic instruments to go down and remove either the thyroid or the parathyroid that way,” Grogan said.

The result? The gland comes out with no telltale cross neck scar.

“Absolutely it’s worth it, 100%,” Faustermann said.

The surgery left Faustermann healthy and happy, with virtually all signs of her health challenges behind her.

So, who is eligible for this transoral endocrine surgery?

Those with thyroid cancers less than two cm; those with Graves’ disease or primary hyperparathyroidism, which is what Faustermann had.

A recent study of 1,000 surgical patients showed that 558 of them were eligible for this surgery.

Contributors to this news report include: Donna Parker, Producer; Bruce Maniscalo, Videographer; Matt Goldschmidt, Editor.