Your thyroid gland is an essential organ that creates the hormones responsible for your body's metabolism. It is shaped like a butterfly and located at the base of your throat, below the Adam's apple in men. Thyroid nodules are one of the issues that can develop with this gland. Our surgeons can address thyroid removal when nodules cause problems.
What are thyroid nodules?
Thyroid nodules are abnormal growths that form within the thyroid gland. Most thyroid nodules are benign (non-cancerous). However, it is important to have thyroid nodules examined through tests that can include ultrasounds and fine needle aspiration. Nodules can press on surrounding areas causing symptoms, and some thyroid nodules do contain cancer.
Types of thyroid nodules
Many thyroid nodules are actually fluid-filled cysts. Solid nodules are more likely to be caused by thyroid cancer. However, thyroid cancer is not common, and about 90% of thyroid nodules are benign.
Some thyroid nodules present as a single lump on or in the thyroid. In other cases, many nodules will develop and cause enlargement of the entire gland, known as a multinodular goiter. Generalized thyroid enlargement without nodules is known as a diffuse goiter and can be a result of medical thyroid disorders.
Causes of thyroid nodules
The cause of most thyroid nodules is unknown. They are far more common in women than in men and in older people than in younger people. About half of all people will develop thyroid nodules by age 60. Thyroid nodules can occur naturally in some people, or run in families. Thyroid cancer is an uncommon cause of thyroid nodules, and some benign nodules can become cancerous over time. The risk of a single nodule becoming cancerous is no more than 10% lifetime.
Some nodules have a much higher risk of cancer. The Large size and increased blood flow are risk factors, as well as rapid enlargement and calcifications. Men with one or more nodules are much more likely to have thyroid cancer than women with the same situation. Prior exposure to neck radiation as a child, and family history of thyroid cancer are risk factors.
Thyroid nodules causing large goiters can also be caused by iodine deficiency. However, this is uncommon in the United States since the introduction of iodized salt in the 20th century.
Symptoms of thyroid nodules
Most thyroid nodules produce no symptoms at all. These nodules are often discovered when an ultrasound of the throat is performed for another reason.
If the nodules are large, they may be detectable by touch or visible to the eye. Sometimes, an individual with thyroid nodules will notice a lump while they are buttoning their shirt or looking in the mirror.
In some cases, significantly enlarged thyroid nodules can press against other structures in the throat. This can cause pressure or pain in the neck. You may also feel a "lump in your throat" or choking sensation. Difficulty swallowing is a common symptom related to thyroid nodules compressing the esophagus. Severe cases can cause trouble breathing or inability to lay flat.
Certain types of thyroid nodules can cause the thyroid to become overactive. When this happens, hyperthyroidism is the result. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include heart palpitations, unexplained weight loss, anxiety, insomnia, agitation, and fatigue.
Thyroid nodules treatment
Your doctor will start by ordering an ultrasound to examine the thyroid nodule. This test will be able to show whether the nodule is solid or filled with fluid, as well as show the size and shape of the nodule. If there is cause for further testing, your doctor may order a fine needle aspiration biopsy.
Thyroid nodules that contain cancer should be surgically removed. Most thyroid cancers are not life-threatening and can often be effectively treated through surgery. If a nodule is benign, it may still be removed if it continues to grow or cause pressure symptoms. Thyroid nodules that are causing excess thyroid activity may also require removal of the thyroid gland.
This procedure can alleviate thyroid-related symptoms. We have years of experience performing thyroid surgeries and can recommend the best path for your care.