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Surgical team tackles ‘coconut’ thyroid growths in Fiji


A team of surgeons from Taipei last month spent time in Fiji treating local people with severe thyroid growths.


Cathay General Hospital in Taipei has been sending medical teams to Fiji since 2014. It’s part of the government’s program to provide medical assistance to countries in the Pacific region. On a visit last year, doctors noticed an unusual prevalence of patients with large thyroid nodules. In July this year, a team led by surgeon Tsai Hsin-tien spent a week at Labasa Hospital, Fiji’s third-largest hospital. There, they operated on nine thyroid patients in a week. Tsai described the nodules on the patients’ necks as being the size of small coconuts.


"Compared to Fiji, it’s much easier to get medical attention in Taiwan. So [thyroid growths] would not get to be this serious, to the point where they are pressing, even bending the windpipe before the patient seeks help. When the swelling gets this big, our room for error in the procedure is much smaller. Not only is the tissue sticky but there is also the danger of hyperplasia. If there is bleeding during the surgery, then that’s even more serious," said Tsai. 


Tsai said bleeding is a common problem when removing the growths. Damage to vocal cords and loss of thyroid function are also potential side-effects of surgery. To help avoid such complications, the team used an advanced harmonic scalpel for the procedures. The instrument uses ultrasonic vibrations to simultaneously cut and cauterize, helping to avoid bleeding.                     


In the past two years, teams of doctors from Taiwan have seen 3,500 patients during their biannual visits to Fiji.