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Rationale for the operative management of substernal goiters.

Surgery 1983 December
During the course of 872 thyroidectomies performed at the University of Michigan Medical Center between 1972 and 1982, 50 patients (5.7%) were found to have substernal goiters, 42 of which were benign and eight malignant (16%). Symptoms included airway compression (22 patients), dysphagia (13 patients), hoarseness (four patients), weight loss (three patients), and thyrotoxicosis (10 patients). Five patients with compression symptoms, four of whom had benign disease, had superior vena cava syndrome. Most patients were elderly (mean age 66 years), were women (3.2 women:1 man), and had long-standing goiters (mean duration 16 years). All but one operation was performed through a cervical incision. There were no intraoperative deaths. Complications were: pneumonia (one patient), wound hematoma (one patient), transient hypocalcemia (two patients), and atrial fibrillation (two patients). This series illustrates five reasons to support operative management. (1) There is no other treatment for long-standing large multinodular goiters. (2) Iodine 131, the alternative to operation for patients with large thyrotoxic goiters, can precipitate acute reactions in the elderly that can result in respiratory distress. (3) A long history of having a large multinodular goiter precluded neither malignancy, hyperfunction, nor complications such as tracheal or esophageal compression. (4) Malignancy occurs in a significant number of these lesions, which are inaccessible to needle biopsy. (5) Nearly all substernal goiters can be removed through a cervical incision. Presence of a substernal goiter is in itself an indication for operation.

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