UAB Medicine first in Alabama to offer scarless ablation for thyroid nodules

Thyroid nodules are not usually cancerous, but can cause pain and discomfort, as well as thyroid complications.

Surgeons in operating room Thyroid nodules are not usually cancerous, but can cause pain and discomfort, as well as thyroid complications.Surgeons in the Heersink School of Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham are the first in Alabama to offer a new therapy to treat benign nodules from the thyroid by means of ablation, or heat. The process, called radiofrequency ablation, reduces nodules in the thyroid by introducing heat energy to the nodule, causing it to shrink.

Thyroid nodules are an abnormal growth of tissue in the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland produces important hormones needed by the body. The thyroid is located in the neck, and while nodules are usually not cancerous, they can cause swelling of the neck, difficulty swallowing, pain/discomfort, and sometimes even difficulty breathing. They can also lead to the production of excess hormones.  

Surgery to remove the nodules is an option; but as does any surgery, this results in a scar, is associated with risks and may require patients to be on lifelong thyroid hormone replacement. 

“Radiofrequency ablation is a non-invasive procedure using an ultrasound-guided probe to the targeted area,” said Jessica Fazendin, M.D., assistant professor in the Division of Breast and Endocrine SurgeryDepartment of Surgery. “The probe, a small electrode, supplies heat energy to the nodule, diminishing it in size until the body can flush it away naturally over several months.”

Fazendin says the ideal candidate is someone with a benign nodule that has been biopsied to be sure it is not cancerous and is also causing cosmetic defects, difficulty swallowing, discomfort or disruption of normal hormone production. The procedure takes between 30 and 60 minutes and does not require a hospital stay. 

“There are a number of benefits of ablation over surgery,” said Erin Buczek, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Otolaryngology. “This is a scarless procedure with a very low complication rate, is performed under local anesthesia and allows for normal thyroid hormone production.”

Thyroid RFA was developed over 15 years ago and is in use worldwide. UAB surgeons Fazendin and Buczek are the first in Alabama to offer this procedure. 

Patients can self-refer by calling the Division of Breast and Endocrine Surgery at 205-934-1211 or the Department of Otolaryngology at 205-801-7801 or via the UAB Medicine website.