After thyroid cancer surgery

Your recovery depends on the type of surgery you have. And your general health. If there are no complications you can usually go home after a day or 2.

Once home, most people recover in a few weeks, but the recovery time may take longer for some people. If you are worried about anything, let your doctor or nurse know. They will be happy to answer any questions. 

When you wake up

You wake up in the recovery area next to the operating theatres.

At first you’ll be wearing a mask or have small tubes into your nose (nasal cannulae) to give you oxygen. You might feel dizzy and sluggish to begin with.

You have a blood pressure cuff on your arm and a little clip on your finger to measure your pulse and oxygen level.

Once you are more awake, your nurse will take you back to the ward. They will measure your blood pressure and check your dressings regularly.

Tubes and drains

When you wake up, you will have several different tubes going into your body. This can be a bit frightening. But it helps to know what they are all for. You will have:

  • a drip (intravenous infusion) to give you fluids until you are drinking again
  • one or more tubes (drains) coming out from your wound

Your nurse can normally take out the drip and drains within 24 hours of the surgery.

The tube coming out from the wound will be connected to a drainage bottle or bag. It is there to stop blood and fluids from collecting inside your wound and causing swelling.

Sometimes there is swelling in your neck during your operation. The surgeon may need to make a small hole in your neck (tracheostomy) to help you breathe. This is usually only for a short time until the swelling settles down.


It is normal to have some pain and stiffness after your operation. 

There are many different painkilling drugs you can have. It is important to tell your doctor or nurse as soon as you feel any pain. They can then find the right type and dose of painkiller for you. Painkillers work best when you take them regularly.

Your wound

Your neck wound is usually closed with stitches that are under the skin surface and dissolve over a few weeks. Sometimes surgeons use clips rather than stitches. Clips need to be removed a few weeks after the operation. You may have a sore throat, but this will improve within a few days.

Eating and drinking

You will probably find it uncomfortable to swallow for a few days after your operation. It may help to have a soft diet for a while. You can talk to a dietician about this if you need to. Or your nurse may give you a diet sheet to take home with you.

Going home

You will be encouraged to be up and about on the first day after your surgery. Most people are in hospital for one or more nights and are then able to go home.

You may go back to the hospital or to your GP surgery every few days for a nurse to check your wound. You will have the phone number of the hospital ward and can call them if you are worried about anything.

It’s important that you don’t do too much and tire yourself out.  It may help to prepare or buy some meals in advance that you can just heat up once you are at home.

You will have some exercises to do, to help you with the stiffness in your neck. Normally, you can start these a day or two after surgery. You should keep doing them until you can move your neck and shoulder as freely as you could before. This will be within a few weeks of your operation.

Your scar

The scar after a thyroid operation is usually a horizontal line towards the bottom and front of your neck. It can be about 3 to 4 inches wide.

After your operation, the scar will be red and sore. But this usually heals well and becomes quite faint after 6 months to one year. Some people can have long term problems with a thick and red scar. Talk to your healthcare team if this is the case.

  • The Royal Marsden Manual of Clinical Nursing Procedures, Professional Edition, 10th Edition
    S Lister and others (Editors)
    Wiley Blackwell, 2020

Last reviewed: 
14 Aug 2023
Next review due: 
14 Aug 2026

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