Eighty patients at the Massachusetts General Hospital underwent resection of substernal goiter in the years 1976 to 1982. Mean age of the 50 women and 30 men was 56 years, and 10 (19 percent) had undergone prior thyroid surgery. The most common symptoms were cervical mass (69 percent), dysphagia (33 percent), and dyspnea (28 percent); 13 percent were asymptomatic. On examination, cervical mass was present in most (90 percent) but not all patients, 51 percent were obese, and more than one third had tracheal deviation. Fifty-one of 52 patients tested were euthyroid and one was mildly hypothyroid. Chest radiographs showed tracheal deviation in 79 percent and soft tissue mass in 56 percent. Seventy-eight patients underwent resection through a cervical collar incision only; one had cervical incision plus upper partial sternotomy; and one required cervical incision plus full median sternotomy. Pathologic examination revealed multinodular goiter in 41 (51 percent), follicular adenoma in 35 (44 percent), and Hashimoto's thyroiditis in 4 (5 percent). Mean goiter weight was 104 g, and the mean greatest dimension was 9 cm. Occult papillary carcinoma was found in two patients. There were no deaths or major complications. Analysis of our data indicate the following: (1) Substernal goiter may exist in the absence of symptoms or signs. (2) Extensive radiologic evaluation and thyroid function testing are rarely required. (3) With rare exceptions, substernal goiter represents an extension of a cervical growth through the thoracic inlet and can be approached through a cervical collar incision. (4) Histologically, these are multinodular goiters or follicular adenomas, although Hashimoto's thyroiditis may occur. (5) Given the small but present risks of acute stridor or occult malignancy and the negligible surgical risk, operation should be recommended. (6) Patients should be followed since, with or without levothyroxine, goiters may recur.
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