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Conquering Thyroid Cancer with “Shockingly Painless” Surgery

By |2023-03-06T13:43:33-05:00January 7th, 2023|Categories: Cancer|Tags: , , |

Tim Cunningham vividly remembers the sunny fall day when he learned that the lump in his throat might be cancerous. Before then, the series of tests he had endured was merely precautionary; cancer didn’t run in his family, so he didn’t believe he had anything to worry about.

“The third biopsy came back ‘suspicious for cancer,’ and surgical removal was recommended,” recalls Tim, 51, of Point Pleasant Beach. “I realized then that what I thought was nothing might actually be something.”

Several months earlier, Tim’s primary care physician felt a lump in his thyroid during his annual physical. After an ultrasound and biopsy of the nodule were inconclusive, a second biopsy was deemed “atypical.” When results from a third biopsy with genetic testing of the tissue came back as “suspicious,” Tim was referred to Alexander L. Shifrin, MD, surgical director of CentraState’s Endocrine Surgery Center.

“If you have a thyroid lump, it’s important to have it evaluated by those specifically trained in this field,” explains Dr. Shifrin, who performs 400 thyroid surgeries a year. “Biopsies of the thyroid can be classified as benign, suspicious, or positive for cancer. We often don’t know whether a nodule is cancerous until we take it out.”

Tim is young and physically active, and because the nodule was smaller than 4 centimeters, Dr. Shifrin recommended a less aggressive surgical approach. Based on current American Thyroid Association guidelines, the technique would remove just half of the thyroid. This would be enough to remove the cancer yet still preserve part of the thyroid gland and maintain some function. With this approach, Tim would also not need a radioactive iodine treatment.

A Nearly Pain-Free Procedure

During the minimally invasive, same-day surgery, Dr. Shifrin used the Harmonic Focus+® device to remove the right portion of the thyroid through a small incision hidden in a skin fold. This state-of-the-art device uses precise ultrasonic energy to cut tissue while reducing the impact on surrounding healthy tissue. Tim’s vocal cords were monitored during the complex surgery to ensure there was no damage to his vocal nerves. Then, the incision was closed with surgical glue. No tubes or drains were required after surgery.

“It was a shockingly painless surgery,” explains Tim, a lawyer. “I took over-the-counter pain relievers the next day. That was it.”

Now, Tim is back to exercising and spending time with his fiancée and nine-year-old daughter. While his endocrinologist will continue to monitor his thyroid, Tim is not currently on replacement hormones.

“I was nervous going into Dr. Shifrin’s office that September day,” Tim says. “But he spent the time to answer all of my questions. When I walked out, I was incredibly comforted and confident that I had found the right doctor for me.”

Coming Soon: Expanded Endocrine Center

As part of CentraState’s commitment to offering the most comprehensive endocrine surgery program in New Jersey, construction has been completed on a modern new facility that will house the hospital’s Endocrine Surgery Center.

Located at 55 Willow Lane in Marlboro, the Endocrine Surgery Center will be led by Dr. Shifrin and an expanding team of endocrinology and interdisciplinary specialists who will broaden access to vital care for conditions, including:

  • Thyroid, parathyroid, and adrenal disorders
  • Endocrine cancers
  • Hereditary endocrine syndromes

This patient-centered facility will be equipped with the latest technology, including the ability to perform in-office ultrasound-guided biopsies.

For more information about endocrine surgery at CentraState, visit or call 866-CENTRA7 (866-236-8727).

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