Some thyroid cancer patients undergone insufficient tumor removal in the primary surgery in China . our aim is to evaluate the impact of dissection of the recurrent laryngeal nerve during a salvage thyroid cancer operation in these patients to prevent nerve injury. Clinical data of 49 enrolled patients who received a salvage thyroid operation were retrospectively reviewed. Primary pathology was thyroid papillary cancer. The initial procedure performed included nodulectomy (20 patients), partial thyroidectomy (19 patients) and subtotal thyroidectomy (10 patients). The effect of dissection and protection of the recurrent laryngeal nerve and the mechanism of nerve injury were studied. The cervical courses of the recurrent laryngeal nerves were successfully dissected in all cases. Nerves were adherent to or involved by scars in 22 cases. Three were ligated near the place where the nerve entered the larynx, while another three were cut near the intersection of inferior thyroid artery with the recurrent laryngeal nerve. Light hoarseness occurred to four patients without a preoperative voice change. In conclusion, accurate primary diagnosis allows for a sufficient primary operation to be performed, avoiding insufficient tumor removal that requires a secondary surgery. The most important cause of nerve damage resulted from not identifying the recurrent laryngeal nerve during first surgery , and meticulous dissection during salvage surgery was the most efficient method to avoid nerve damage.