Today, we're getting to know Dr. Clayman better with a Q&A for Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month!
Dr. Clayman has performed more than six hundred thyroid cancer operations per year for over thirty years among patients ranging from 6 months to 100+ years of age. If it pertains to thyroid surgery or thyroid cancer, there is likely nothing that he hasn’t seen.
Q&A with Dr. Gary Clayman of the Clayman Thyroid Center
1) We all know you are one of the most experienced thyroid surgeon in the US, but can you elaborate a bit on your thyroid cancer experience specifically? How long have you been treating thyroid cancer patients?
I began my career at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, one of the worlds most sought after cancer centers. Very early on in my career, I identified my passion and ability to care for patients with thyroid surgical needs as well as my ability to deliver a level of care not previously available at that institution or other places throughout the world.
Over the course of my earlier career, I began to focus more and more upon only thyroid surgery. When I began to review my personal experience, over 80% of my operations solely focused upon thyroid surgery and thyroid cancer surgery. I became internationally recognized as the surgeon that focused his career in both advanced and recurrent thryoid cancer. I even focused all of my research efforts in this area as well.
In 2002, I decided to establish myself as a super specialized surgical specialist in only thyroid surgery. I attempted to convince the institution of the need for super specialization at that time. I have remained solely focused upon thyroid surgery and thyroid cancer surgery for over two decades now.
2) Why do you think thyroid cancer diagnoses have been on the rise in recent years?
It is not clearly known why thyroid cancer is increasing in its incidence. Certainly, the ability to diagnose thyroid cancer has been expanded by contemporary high resolution imaging. High resolution ultrasound has drastically increased our ability to diagnose this disease beginning in the 1980s. In the 2000s, genetic analysis of thyroid nodules increased the ability to diagnose thyroid cancer‘s earlier on in their history. Whether imaging including CAT scan and MRI for other symptoms has also led to the diagnosis of thyroid cancer which would otherwise go undiagnosed. Additionally, medical professionals have equally become attuned to the diagnosis and management of thyroid cancer‘s.
3) Why should a thyroid cancer patient travel to have their surgery at the Clayman Thyroid Center vs. going to their local hospital? Does it really make a difference?
We firmly believe in the concept of super sub specialization. The more you do, the more you see, the more experience you have… The better the outcome for the patient.
Sometimes it is easier to explain from an athletic standpoint than from a surgical standpoint. It was not luck for Michael Jordan to be able to hit a three-point shot from 50 feet away. He practiced it thousands and thousands of times so that this could be a predictable outcome. Equally so in surgery, when our surgeons perform the most delicate and intricate operations thousands of times, they can perform these operations in a fast and meticulous and reproducible fashion unlike other surgeons. This results in the highest cure rates and the lowest complication rates achievable in thyroid surgery. This is what the Clayman Thyroid Center is all about. We do one thing, and we do it exceptionally well with the highest success and lowest complication rates in an environment where all patients are treated as if they were family.
Thyroid surgery is all about location, experience, and expertise. All the critical structures surrounding the thyroid gland can be beautifully and perfectly preserved by the most expert surgeons. This includes the nerves to the voicebox which are both sensory and movement, the parathyroid glands which controlled calcium, the breathing tube, voicebox, swallowing tube, and the important blood vessels of the neck - the carotid artery and jugular veins. These are identified and beautifully preserved by expert thyroid surgeons. However, among occasional surgeons, all of these critical structures can be in peril and the risk of complications and failure to adequately manage the disease is common place.
4) Why are your cure rates so much higher than other hospitals or universities?
Most simply put, our cure rates are so high because our operations are so complete and performed at such an expert level. It unfortunately can sound arrogant, but we take great pride in what we do and how we do it. Many surgeons throughout the world do not address the lymph nodes most commonly associated with thyroid cancer unless they are clinically involved. We, in no way, perform aggressive surgery. What we do, is perform curative surgery. We do not leave microscopic disease in lymph nodes in order to determine whether these will grow and progress in time. Lymph nodes which are at risk of harboring cancer are removed routinely with the thyroid gland in order to prevent persistent and recurrence disease in the most typical thyroid cancers. In published U. S. National studies, the rate of persistent disease in the most highly curable thyroid cancers is 20% at ten years. Among our patients, the persistent and recurrence rate in total, for the same patient population is 0.2%. This is 1/100th of what is reported in the most favorable U. S. literature.
5) A large portion of your business is re-operations… are these really thyroid cancers that have come back, or are these situations where the original surgeon didn’t get it all out the first time?
Approximately 25% of the patients with our cancer that we care for the Clayman thyroid Center have recurrent or persistent thyroid cancer. In the far majority of these instances, the disease is actually persistent. What this means, is that their disease was not completely removed during their first operation. We know that these are not bad cancers, however, since our cure rates even amongst these patients exceeds 98%.
6) Please share one of your favorite patient stories with us!
One of my favorite patient stories is woman in her late 70s who came from New York City. She had undergone a thyroid cancer operation at a famous cancer center in New York City. Following that surgery, she was found to have recurrent/persistent disease in the lymph nodes of her lower neck. At that time, she saw her surgeon in New York City who informed her that she was inoperable and that she should “get her affairs in order”.
Following the thorough evaluation of this patient, she underwent a surgery under our care which took less than one hour. She was discharged from the hospital the next day. She has normal voice, swallowing and calcium control and the only remembrance of her cancer is a small not noticeable scar in her lower neck. She has remained in wellness follow up since that time. Every year, she sends me a Christmas card with a thank you note expressing her gratitude in all the time that she has been gifted.