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ANN ARBOR, Michigan — Researchers at the University of Michigan have discovered a link between low thyroid hormone levels and wound healing complications.

The retrospective study looked at 182 patients with laryngeal squamous cell carcinoma who were first treated with radiation, but ultimately required a total laryngectomy, or removal of the voice box. The research published in the Annals of Surgical Oncology.

One of the common complications after this surgery is a fistula, or a leak of saliva from the throat into the neck. Forty to 50 percent of patients experience this disconcerting complication, which can lead to longer hospital stays and delays in being able to speak and swallow after surgery.

Researchers have tried to understand this problem for years, testing theories about blood count and nutritional status, and even rebuilding the throat with grafts from the leg or chest to support the tissue during healing. But the fistula rate remained high.

A team at Michigan Medicine took a new approach.

“We know that thyroid function is important, and that patients who are treated with radiation to the head and neck have a high risk of having low thyroid function,” says study author Andrew Rosko, M.D., an otolaryngologist

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