Welcome to Dr John Chaplin Head and Neck Surgeon


Lymph Nodes

Head and Neck Surgery- Auckland

Your Surgeon

Dr John Chaplin is an experienced,  high volume head and neck surgeon with  an international pedigree and reputation. John is an expert in the management of thyroid nodules and particularly thyroid cancer including thyroid cancer that has metastasised to neck lymph nodes. John also has expertise in diagnosing and managing salivary gland tumours and swellings . He is highly skilled in managing the facial nerve in parotid tumours and particularly in cancers involving the parotid gland. John has just completed co-authoring a book chapter on the management of metastatic and advanced cutaneous malignancy to the parotid gland that is due for publication in late 2019. He is a surgical leader in neck dissection  and performs neck dissection procedures weekly for management tongue cancer, HPV and non HPV related throat cancer, larynx cancer and skin cancer that has metastasised to neck lymph nodes. Dr John Chaplin has 20+ years experience in private and public hospital in head and neck surgery and is an integral member of the Auckland Regional Head and Neck Team. John has trained over 20 international fellows in head and neck surgery and microvascular reconstruction and he  is the highest volume head and neck reconstructive surgeon in the country. John can see patients with neck lumps urgently. Call (09) 6311948 or click this link


One Stop Neck Lump Clinic

John Chaplin performs neck lymph node  and neck lump investigations with office based ultrasound scan and fine needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy at his One Stop Neck Lump Clinic based at Mauranui Clinic in Epsom, Auckland.

Examination and Endoscopy

At these appointments a full expert head and neck examination is performed and this includes flexible endoscopy of the upper airway. This allows a comprehensive assessment of potential tumour primary sites that may lead to neck lumps. This is particularly relevant in the current HPV related oropharyngeal cancer era, where it is recognised that there is an increase in HPV related tonsil and base of tongue throat cancer that goes against the decline in other cancers seen.

Neck and Thyroid Ultrasound

Ultrasound is performed at the time and the site,  number and size of the lump or lumps is noted. In addition, the echogenicity, shape, margin, vascularity and calcifications are reported upon. These  features are compared against risk based scoring systems particularly with respect to thyroid nodules to determine whether FNA biopsy is indicated.

Neck Lump FNA Biopsy

If FNA is indicated it will be performed under ultrasound guidance as this allows accurate placement of the needle into the tissue likely to offer the highest yield of cellular material and therefore a diagnosis. The material is processed urgently and an accurate answer is available within 24-48 hours. A follow up appointment will be arranged to discuss the results.

CT Scanning

CT scanning is available on site at Mauranui Clinic with Ascot@Mauranui scanning allowing full contrast enhanced scanning appropriate for assessment of primary site and regional nodal assessment as well as assessment of distant sites like lungs.

Services offered at our “One Stop Neck Lump Clinic.”

Mauranui Clinic 86 Gt South Road Epsom

Urgent appointments available here

Specialist assessment.

At our Neck Lump Clinic you will  not be assessed by  a recently qualified, recently trained surgeon who has a limited degree of experience. You will be seen by Dr John Chaplin, a highly experienced head and neck surgeon who is trained to recognise the nuances of neck lump presentation.  Examinations are thorough and once investigations are performed, at the same appointment setting, it is usual for an experienced surgeon to have a working diagnosis in a very short time.

The treating surgeon  can then usually give you a very accurate outline of what further investigation and treatment would involve. The level of high volume surgery and vast experience of the specialist makes this a far more comprehensive interaction than may be available elsewhere. The patient will benefit from:


Office Based Neck Ultrasound Examination

Any patient who attends our One Stop Neck Lump Clinic will undergo an office based ultrasound scan using a General Electric Logiq E scanner that, despite being a small machine, has fantastic resolution and produces some of the best images I have seen. Many years of looking at ultrasound images of neck lumps every day along with the insight that may years of performing complex open neck surgery has given me unparalleled intuition as to what might be significant or not. I am not necessarily influenced by radiology or pathology opinions that come from personnel that spread there skills among other anatomical and pathological areas as those who work for other neck lump clinic services may be.


Fine Needle Aspiration Biopsy (FNA)

A safe and accurate technique to investigate all lumps in the neck including nodules in the thyroid gland tumours in the salivary glands and all pathology in neck lymph nodes. A fine needle is passed into the neck lump under ultrasound guidance to ensure accurate placement into the tissue most likely to yield diagnostic material. The needle in then massaged in and out of the neck lump to milk cells up into the needle shaft. The cells are then either smeared onto a glass slide and sprayed with fixative or washed into cell preserving solution and sent to the lab. Usually the results are available in 24-48 hours and Dr Chaplin will contact you with this results.

CT scanning

Full contrast enhanced CT scanning is available onsite at Mauranui Clinic, 86 Great South Road Epsom Auckland. Where appropriate a scan will be arranged at the time of the original appointment reducing the inconvenience of another  appointment and speeding up the diagnostic process significantly.


Urgent Neck Lump Appointments Available

Call  096311948


Types of thyroid cancer

There are several different types of thyroid cancers and they are broadly broken into categories based on the cells that they originate from and their behaviour. Most thyroid cancers are low grade, differentiated thyroid cancers that originate from thyroid follicle cells, generally behave in an indolent fashion and have very high rates of survival. At the other end of the spectrum are anaplastic thyroid cancers that are among the most aggressive human cancers, have a rapidly progressive disease course and have  rates of disease specific death approaching 100%. In between these are a group of poorly differentiated cancers that also originate from thyroid follicular cells, occur in older patients and do worse than differentiated thyroid cancers. Finally, there is medullary thyroid cancer, a neuroendocrine tumour of parafollicular c cell origin that just happens to occur in the thyroid gland but is not of thyroid cell origin. We now understand quite a lot about the molecular pathways involved in the development of thyroid cancers and this has helped to classify variants of these tumours and also helped to identify therapeutic strategies in cancers that are beyond surgical treatment. The mainstay of treatment of thyroid cancer however, remains  surgery and the vast majority of thyroid cancers are cured with this and sometimes the use of I131.

Differentiated Thyroid Cancer

Papillary Thyroid Cancer

Papillary thyroid cancer (PTC) is the most common thyroid malignancy making up 75-80% of all thyroid cancers. It occurs in woman 4 x more frequently than men and is predominantly a tumour of adulthood in the child bearing age group but it does occur in children. 67% present with a thyroid nodule, 13 % present with a nodule and lymph nodes and 20% present with lymph nodes alone. Lymph nodes can be small and can undergo cystic change and be mistaken for branchial cleft cysts. Occult micropapillary cancers occur in 6% of the population and are present at autopsy. There are a number of variants of PTC some of which have behaviour similar to or better than classic variant PTC like Follicular Variant , Encapsulated Variant, Cribriform-morular variant and Diffuse Sclerosing variant. Some have worse behaviour and generally occur in older patients such as Tall Cell Variant, Columnar Cell Variant, Hobnail Cell Variant and Solid and Trabecular Variant PTC.

Follicular Thyroid Cancer

Follicular thyroid cancer (FTC) is the next most common making up 6-10% of all thyroid cancers. 75% occur in women and age incidence peaks at 40-60 years. Iodine deficiency and radiation exposure are risk factors. Most present with a thyroid nodule and lymph node involvement is uncommon but up to 69% develop distant metastases to lung and bone . There are 3 main types of FTC: Minimally Invasive FTC with a very good long term prognosis, Encaspulated Angioinvasive FTC which does worse and Widely Invasive FTC with a high distant metastatic rate and 50% longterm mortality.

Hurthle Cell Thyroid Cancer

A follicular tumour with >75% oncocytic cells. The oncocytic (Hurthle) cells are due to being packed with abnormal mitochondria. These tumours are most common in older men ( mean age 57yrs). Hurthle cell cancers are more aggressive than follicular cancers with more extrathyroid extension, more metastases to lymph nodes and higher rates of mortality ( up to 80%)

Poorly Differentiated Thyroid Cancer

This is a malignancy of Follicular cell origin that makes up 0.3-7% of all thyroid cancers. It occurs in older patients and presents as a large solid thyroid mass. There is a high rate of nodal and haematogenous metastases and a 3 yr survival rate of around 35%. It has behaviour that sits between differentiated thyroid cancer and anaplastic cancer and can originate de novo or from a differentiated thyroid cancer or goitre and can under go a series of mutations to de-differentiate. There are insular, solid and trabecular variants and these cell pattern types can be mixed. Tumours must also demonstrate tumour necrosis, a high mitotic rate and or convoluted nuclei.

Medullary Thyroid Cancer

A neuroendocrine tumor derived from C cells  of the ultimobranchial body of the neural crest, which secrete calcitonin. Makes up  1 – 2% of thyroid carcinomas. 70% are  sporadic (nonhereditary) and 30% familial (hereditary). The sporadic tumours are solitary and peak in ages 40 – 60. The hereditary type occurs in  younger patients (mean age 35) and are usually bilateral and  multicentric with C cell hyperplasia. Familial MTC is due to MEN 2A or 2B syndromes, familial medullary thyroid carcinoma (FMTC) syndrome, von Hippel-Lindau disease or neurofibromatosis. This is caused by gain of function germline mutations in the RET gene. Presents as a hard thyroid mass and up to 75% have nodal metastases. Serum calcitonin correlates with tumour burden and those with systemic metastases may have diarrhoea and flushing. 5 year survival is 65-90% and prognosis is worse with higher stage, nodal metastases, male, MEN2B, 918RET mutation, high mitotic activity and vascular invasion.


Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer

Anaplastic thyroid cancer (ATC) is among the most aggressive and deadly human cancers. It makes up 2-5% of thyroid cancers but is responsible for 40% of thyroid cancer deaths. This tumour presents as a rapidly progressive large neck mass with invasion of central compartment structures associated symptoms of hoarseness, dyspnoea and dysphagia. There are usually involved lymph nodes and 30-40% present with distant metastases. 50% have a prior multi nodular goitre and 20% have a prior differentiated thyroid cancer. 20% have a concurrent differentiated thyroid cancer and dedifferentiation occurs in this tumour with a high rate of TP53 mutation. 1 year survival is in the 10-20% range.


Thyroid cancer warning signs.

1. Thyroid nodule:

The most common presentation of thyroid cancer is a nodule in the thyroid gland. Cancerous nodules tend to be harder, more fixed, larger  and more irregular than non cancerous nodules.

thyroid ultrasound showing right thyroid cancer

thyroid ultrasound showing right thyroid cancer

Thyroid cancer is also highly likely in a patient who has a thyroid nodule and has:

2. Lymph nodes:

Thyroid cancer lymph nodes are frequently cystic and can often appear lower in the neck than metastases from other head and neck primary sites. The nodes are usually large, round and have loss of the normal architecture. The appearance on ultrasound often mimics the appearance of the primary thyroid cancer and punctate echogenic foci (PEF) appearing as small bright flecks can often be seen.

metastatic left level 2 neck lymph node

metastatic left level 2 neck lymph node

3. Hoarse Voice:

Less commonly thyroid cancer can invade surrounding structures and the most common structure is the recurrent laryngeal nerve that supplies muscles of the voice box. This can lead to a breathy and hoarse voice.

4. Haemoptysis (coughing up blood):

The trachea (windpipe) is next most commonly involved and invasion of this can lead to bleeding

5. Stridor (noisy breathing) and shortness of breath:

Also caused by tracheal invasion

6. Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing):

Invasion of the oesophagus can lead to increasing difficulty swallowing. This is relatively uncommon and usually the muscle of the oesophagus is involved and not the mucosal lining

7. Family history of thyroid cancer:

A patient with a strong family history of thyroid cancer and a nodule has a higher risk of thyroid cancer. Particularly in medullary thyroid cancer. This is far less of an issue in papillary thyroid cancer unless there are 3 first degree relatives in a family with the diagnosis

8. History of radiation to neck:

A patient with a thyroid nodule and a history of previous therapeutic or environmental radiation exposure particularly in childhood is at much higher risk of having thyroid cancer. Populations who live in iodine deficient areas and around volcanoes are also at much higher risk of thyroid cancers.

9. Ultrasound risk features:

A thyroid nodule that is solid, hypoechoic ( darker on ultrasound), an irregular margin, taller than wide in shape and has multiple punctate echogenic foci is high risk for being a thyroid cancer. These features are used in scoring systems that are used as risk assessment tools for thyroid nodules to determine which should be biopsied or observed and which can be ignored. One such system in common use in Auckland is the TIRADS system.

Thyroid nodule in left upper pole: Hypoechoic, solid, taller than wide and irregular margin with punctate echogenic foci. TIRADS TR5

Thyroid nodule in left upper pole: Hypoechoic, solid, taller than wide and irregular margin with punctate echogenic foci. TIRADS TR5

10. Diarrhoea: 

Patients with a thyroid nodule and persistent diarrhoea may have medullary thyroid cancer with an elevated calcitonin level that leads to the diarrhoea. These patient will also usually have an elevated CEA level which is a non specific marker for cancer.


Any patients with these features should be referred early for assessment with Examination, laryngeal endoscopy, ultrasound and FNA biopsy all available in one stop in Dr Chaplin’s practice at Mauranui Clinic

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