A thyroid nodule is an area of growth within the thyroid. The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of the front of the neck. Naturally the thyroid makes a hormone, which has many purposes but is best known for regulating your metabolism and body temperature.
Thyroid nodules can occur as a single nodule while others have multiple nodules within the gland. Thyroid nodules are far more common in women. The sizes of thyroid nodules can vary greatly and can be tiny to very large in size.
Most thyroid nodules are non-cancerous, in fact around 85% are benign. Most of the time thyroid nodules do not cause symptoms, and do not need any treatment. However, some nodules do require treatment, because of the size, appearance on ultrasound, or symptoms caused by the nodule.
Small thyroid nodules are more common and most often cause no symptoms. However, some nodules can cause the thyroid to grow (called a goiter), some can be overactive and lead to hyperthyroidism, and in a minority of nodules there can be thyroid cancers. If patients do experience symptoms they may include:
- A lump in the neck
- Difficulty swallowing
- Pressure in the neck
Most thyroid nodules require no treatment. In some cases, thyroid surgery is needed. As part of the evaluation of thyroid nodules your primary care physician, endocrinologist or ear, nose, and throat specialist may order or perform the following:
- Thyroid function tests, including thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH)
- Blood tests, or radiology examination
- An ultrasound to see the size and appearance of the nodule
- In certain circumstances a fine needle biopsy may be needed. In this procedure, a small needle is passed into the nodule, and tissue samples are sent to a pathologist for testing.
The results of the biopsy may lead your doctor to recommend additional biopsies, additional imaging studies, observation, or surgery. Here are some questions to ask when surgery is recommended.
- What are the risks of thyroid surgery?
- Is it an outpatient or inpatient procedure?
- What kind of recovery should I expect after thyroid surgery?
- What kind of a scar should I expect?
- What kind of wound care will I need to do after discharge?
- What kind of pain should I expect?
- Do I need thyroid medication after all thyroid surgery?
- Will I need additional treatment?