Thyroid treatment breaks new ground

Local | Carain Yeung 27 Jun 2016

Twenty-nine people have undergone a new "melting" procedure to treat inflamed thyroid nodules, which experts say is cheaper and has fewer side effects.

The non-invasive echotherapy treatment from France was introduced at Queen Mary Hospital last year and involves a high-intensity focused ultrasound machine that "melts" the targeted tissue by heating it rapidly to about 85 degrees Celsius killing the cells. This reduces the size of the nodule significantly within six months, with the body absorbing the dead cells.

University of Hong Kong clinical associate professor Brian Lang Hung- hin, pictured, said half of the population have the nodules but most are benign. But sometimes they become noticeable or cause discomfort, including difficulty in swallowing, sore throat, neck pain and a hoarse voice.

Lang, also an endocrine surgery chief at Queen Mary Hospital and Tung Wah Hospital, said thyroid surgery used to be the most effective treatment, but patients often refused it due to scarring and other complications. But he said echotherapy is a great alternative as it does not involve any wounds, with an applicator placed just on the skin.

The "melting procedure" takes about 45 minutes for a three-centimeter nodule and doctors mainly treat one or two at a time to avoid burning the skin. Echotherapy only requires local anesthesia and patients can be discharged on the same day.

Of the 29 patients who underwent the technique from November to May, nearly all had no complications apart from a mild redness on the area where the therapy was performed. Lang said the redness will fade in about a week or two.

Thyroid surgery costs more than HK$30,000 compared with HK$3,000 for echotherapy. But patients at public hospitals will be charged HK$100 a day for the procedure.

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