Cryoablation in Turkey for Thyroid Tumors | Medical Treatment While Traveling
I finally found a cure for my thyroid that doesn't involve removing my thyroid after 8 years! In 2013, the doctors found 3 tumors and I was diagnosed with suspicious papillary thyroid cancer.
It was a depressing time when I was told that thyroidectomy was my only option. Thyroidectomy is a procedure wherein the thyroid is removed, it can be partial or the whole thyroid.
In most countries like the Philippines, that was my only option but I learned that there are other minimally invasive procedures in other countries.
I refused Thyroidectomy and Radioactive Iodine for years and I know the risks.
I tried several alternative treatments alongside a change to healthier lifestyle. In the process 2 nodules of the 3 were gone. Those 2 that shrunk were just 1cm in size but I was left with one big 5cm tumor.The healthy lifestyle did work at least for the 2 smaller nodules. I was strict on food especially when I was working.
I tried to be as detailed in my experience because I always get a lot of questions, people would direct message me in social media which I don't see right away if we're not connected. So I hope this answers most of your questions.
Note: This is not medical advice. I am just writing about my personal experience in detail because I have gotten direct messages and questions from people since I shared my experience in an FB support group.
Table of contents
- Cryoablation in Turkey
- Initial Consultation
- Tests and Treatment Options
- Day of Treatment
- Post Cryoablation
- Follow Up Ultrasound
- Tips in Getting your Treatment in Turkey
Cryoablation in Turkey
Now about my treatment...
I found Prof Dr. Saim Yilmaz in Turkey who performs minimally invasive procedures. We went to Turkey in August 2021 because it was one of the few countries open for tourism so I didn't go there for medical purposes and I didn't have a medical visa.
But while in Istanbul, I recalled someone in a Thyroid Facebook support group mention about a doctor in Turkey so I contacted him via email, sent him a copy of my previous thyroid results and then my appointment was set.
We were already in Turkey so why not try it.
We were in Istanbul that time and luckily the doctor was in the area as well. He flies between his Istanbul and Antalya clinic.
I had my initial consultation in Istanbul. The clinic was in a building at the Asia side of Istanbul and we were staying at the Europe side where most tourist sites are. It was easy to get to through the metro and was just walking distance from the train station.
Before entering the building, you have to dial the unit number so the admin can give you access to the entrance. You can find this in his website which I linked at the end of this post.
Prof Dr. Saim was a pleasant and professional doctor. He also speaks English fluently so foreign patients would find it easy to communicate their medical concern.
He performed an ultrasound and discussed my options afterwards. As my only fine needle biopsy in 2013 showed suspicious papillary thyroid cancer, I was given an option to have another biopsy done but this time aside from a fine needle biopsy, he will also perform a tru cut biopsy for a more conclusive result.
After the biopsy, my options would be clearer because if it was really cancer then I would have less treatment options which are Cryoablation and Embolization.
Thyroid RFA (radiofrequency ablation) and laser are not recommended if there is malignancy because more needle strokes are done in these procedures, according to Dr. Saim.
We scheduled the biopsy the following week in his Antalya clinic. We were supposed to go to Cappadocia but canceled that plan and bought a plane ticket to Antalya instead. This was now priority over our travel plans.
Tests and Treatment Options
We stayed in Antalya Old Town which was a taxi away from his clinic. We chose this area because there were more short term accommodation options and is near tourist attractions and restaurants. It was fine because the taxis are metered and affordable.
The Antalya clinic is much bigger and is even nearby the Mediterrenean coast. We went back for my biopsy.
The result came back the following day and both biopsies showed benign!!
Side note, I still believe that the healthy lifestyle contributed to that.
We went back the next day to discuss my options. As my result was benign, I was given more options: thyroid RFA/ laser, embolization and cryoablation.
Options... options... options...
Thyroid RFA (radio frequency ablation) is becoming more popular in South Korea, the US and other countries. It is also the cheapest in my options but this was the least of my options due to a history of suspicious papillary thyroid cancer. The doctor gave me the freedom to choose, and I chose Cryoablation.
Cryoablation and Embolization are safer for both benign and malignant tumors.I decided to do Cryoablation as it's an outpatient procedure. Embolization would have worked as well but it's an angioplasty procedure so I would have to stay overnight in the clinic.
Day of Treatment
I was anxious when I arrived but the nurses reassured me that they perform Cryoablation almost everyday and is very safe. They lightened my mood by giving me recommendations on where to travel to near Antalya. There were very caring and professional at the same time. They have nurses who can speak in English so they also assist the admin in terms of payment processing.
I was on anaesthesia and was awake during the process. I lay facing the ultrasound monitor and watched the needle pump an ice ball inside the tumor which then melts. It's basically killing the tumor by freezing it. He explains that the body will then naturally get rid of the dead cells so the tumors will shrink. That was cool to watch!
He explained what was happening. He would also asked me to count every 30 seconds just to make sure that my voice has not changed. A slight change in voice is normal but a more significant change is a signal for him to stop puncturing the needle in that certain area.
It took a couple times (or three, I can't remember) when he inserted the needle as he said that he aims to cover most of the tumor with the icy gas. In the end I had two slightly visible punctures on my neck.
The whole procedure took less than an hour and I stayed another hour or so in a waiting area just before we went home.
My neck was swollen and purplish which was normal after the procedure. I was advised to rest but can go on normal activities after a few days.
He also prescibed an antibiotic and an anti inflammatory pill which I took for a week. I took the anti inflammatory a bit longer as my neck was still very swollen.
Before we left the clinic, my partner went to the nearby pharmacy to buy these pills just to make sure I can take these right away.
I was still careful so we stayed a few more days in Antalya. We went back to the clinic for a follow up check before we moved to Çıralı, which is a small town two hours away from Antalya and near the beach so I can relax more. Antalya Old Town was ok but it was more a party area.
Dr Saim was in Istanbul during that follow up but they have another doctor who did the check. She performed an ultrasound and assured me that everything is looking good.
We stayed in Çıralı for almost 2 weeks and went back to Antalya for our flight to Tbilisi, Georgia. I would have wanted to stay longer but I'm only given one month maximum for my tourist visa.
During this time, a week after the treatment, there's still swelling and the area is still a little purplish.
Dr Saim did my last follow up check before our flight and everything was ok. He advised that I can have another ultrasound after 5 months because the shrinking process will take time as the body naturally gets rid of the dead cells from the Cryoablation.
The swelling lasted for almost a month and then my neck looks normal and flatter.
Turkey is one of the leading countries for medical tourism and I now see why. Dr. Saim Yilmaz is probably one of the best in the world in this field, you can search for his medical journals most of which are related to the procedures he performs. The nurses and staff are very competent and nice as well, they made sure we were comfortable the whole time.
The clinic in Antalya also treat breast tumors (and other areas but I'm just not familiar) with Cryoablation.
Follow Up Ultrasound
I had an ultrasound 2 months after the treatment because I was in a wellness retreat in Tbilisi and they had it there anyway. I wasn't expecting much improvement because the body would naturally get rid of the dead tumor and that takes time.
I just had it checked since I had access to it and to ensure my anxious mind that everything's okay. The ultrasound result showed a decrease of 0.5 cm.
My most recent thyroid ultrasound was in April 2022, after 7+ months, in the Philippines. It decreased by 18%. It doesn't sound like much but the important thing is that it continuously decrease. Prior my treatment, it was consistently increasing so seeing this result was good news for me.
My neck also looks flat now. Before the treatment, people would notice the lump on my neck because it was also swollen. The swelling is gone and there is no mark from the 2 punctures made.
I will continue to monitor it and will get an ultrasound once a year and will update the post.
Tips in Getting your Treatment in Turkey
- Set an appointment via email before your flight. I did it while already in Turkey but I had one month there which was just enough. This is also to make sure that the doctor is either in his Istanbul or Antalya clinic. I recommend his Antalya clinic at Özel Varisson Radyoloji because they have complete medical equipment there. If you would choose Embolization in Istanbul, it would cost more than Antalya because they have to rent a room and equipment at a hospital.
- If you're staying in Old Antalya, choose a hotel that is far from the busy streets or a room located on a higher floor. It was difficult to sleep because people partying would sometimes drive in the middle of the night with their sound on full blast.
- When paying with a debit card, always choose to pay in local currency to save in conversion fees. The international card system works in a way that would allow you to choose this but we found that it wouldn't show this option if it's a huge amount - it would appear as if you can only pay in USD/EUR (whatever your bank currency is). When you see this ask the admin to press cancel (the nurse who can speak English assisted us to communicate this). Once cancel is chosen, it would finally show the option to pay in local currency. That's really sneaky of the Turkish banks because paying EUR 4k worth of medical treatment in EUR would cost a conversion fee of more than 200 euros at that time! Paying in local currency would make use of visa or mastercard's conversion rate which is better.
- The most common question I get is "how much is the treatment?". I paid around EUR 4.5k including consultations and tests. This is for a 5cm tumor that was previously suspicious of papillary thyroid cancer. I am not sure if it would be different for other cases (size, number of nodules/tumors, whether benign or not, etc), so it will be best to get a quote from the doctor after your consultation. This price is for Cryoablation and it's about the same cost for Embolization. Thyroid RFA and Laser are cheaper alternatives (I was quoted EUR 2k excluding tests) but I chose the treatment that was best for me. I am not aware if the recent Turkish Lira hyperinflation has affected the cost so check before you go.
- Is it covered by insurance? They also accept a few international insurances but my insurance doesn't cover it and most insurance still consider the procedure experimental despite several successful cases. You can check with them if they are affiliated with your insurance.
- If possible, stay in Turkey for at least one month so you can go for follow up checks too. In the whole process, I went to the clinic 6x: initial consult, biopsy, discussion of treatment options after biopsy, treatment day and 2 follow ups which were 2 weeks in between. This is is an outpatient procedure so you can do some light traveling and there's so much to see in Antalya and nearby areas.
- For contact information, go to the doctor's official website https://www.profsaimyilmaz.com/home
- I recommend you join the Facebook group linked below. I found Dr. Saim through this thyroid support group when a British lady shared that she had a successful embolization with him for a very large tumor last year, when all the doctors in London said that only Thyroidectomy will work. I also shared my experience in this group and you will find a lot of testimonies for other doctors around the world who perform minimally invasive procedures.
PS. I'm not a medical professional so I'm sharing information based on my understanding. You should talk to doctors and do your own research. This post is not medical advice.