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Objective: Medical practice governance is made more challenging by the fact that many procedures may be performed by various medical or surgical specialties. Thyroid cancer surgery is performed by both physicians with general surgery (GS) and those with otolaryngology/head and neck surgery (HNS) credentials. Analyses describing differences in practice patterns between the 2 services have not been published previously.
Patients and Methods: The records of the Tumor Registry at the Naval Medical Center San Diego were reviewed for patients presenting with thyroid cancer between January 1, 1990, and December 31, 1999. The review included all patients undergoing partial or total thyroidectomy, and the operative techniques and complications were noted.
Results: Of the 178 patients who underwent thyroid cancer surgery in this period, charts were available for 136 (n = 87 HNS, n = 49 GS, 1 combined HNS/GS). There was no difference between the 2 services in terms of the percentage of patients undergoing lymph node sampling (P = 1.000), but each had different approaches to sampling techniques. Head and neck surgeons performed more total thyroidectomies (P < .001) and referred patients more frequently for postoperative radioiodine (P = .025); they resected 426 nodes in 32 patients (mean 13.3, median 6.5), of which 120 (28.2%) were positive. General surgeons resected 28 nodes in 11 patients (median 2.0, mean 2.6), of which 12 (42.8%) were positive (P = .009). Other variables were similar for services, including inpatient hospital days, estimated blood loss, number of patients with temporary hypoparathyroidism, and duration of hypocalcemia.
Conclusion: In this cohort, otolaryngologists/head and neck surgeons and general surgeons have a significantly different approach with respect to lymph node sampling in the surgical therapy of thyroid cancer. Outcomes appear independent of technique.
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