Thyroid Nodules Common, Usually Not Cancerous

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If you have ever noticed a lump in the lower front of your neck – maybe while tying a necktie, fastening a necklace or even just looking in the mirror – it’s important to bring it up to your doctor.

The lump could be a thyroid nodule growing on your thyroid gland, which is a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland, according to the American Thyroid Association (ATA).

The nodule, however, is an abnormal growth of thyroid cells that create a lump on the gland. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), these growths can be:The job of the thyroid gland is to make thyroid hormones, which release into the blood and go into the tissue throughout the body, according to the ATA. The hormones help the body stay warm and use energy, and they keep the brain, heart, muscles, and other organs working right.

  • Benign (not cancer)
  • Cold nodule (not making thyroid hormone)
  • Cysts (fluid-filled)
  • Hot nodules (making thyroid hormone)
  • Malignant (cancer)
  • Singular or grouped together

Most thyroid nodules don’t cause any symptoms, so they are often found during a routine physical exam or as the result of an unrelated imaging study.

If the nodule is large, it can press against other parts of the neck, according to the NIH. Then it can cause symptoms including:

  • A visible lump
  • Breathing problems, especially when lying flat
  • Issues swallowing food
  • Neck pain
  • Voice change or hoarseness

In addition to nodules being found by someone on their own, they are often found during unrelated CT scans or neck ultrasounds. It is also common for them to be found during physical exams, which is why it is important to make sure your primary care provider examines your neck during an exam, according to the ATA.

Thyroid nodules are more common in women than in men, according to the NIH.

The likelihood of having this growth increases as you age. By age 60, about half of all people have a thyroid nodule that can be found by exam or imaging, according to the ATA.

Though more than 90 percent of thyroid nodules are benign, a few are cancerous, according to the ATA.

A thyroid nodule is more likely to be cancerous, according to the NIH, if:

  • It is hard
  • It is stuck to something nearby
  • There is a family history of thyroid cancer
  • There is a history of head or neck radiation exposure
  • You are male
  • You are older than 70
  • You are younger than 20
  • Your voice has changed

It is important to have a thyroid nodule caught early so it can be evaluated and treatment can start right away, if cancer is found, according to the ATA. Evaluating the nodule could include any of the following:

  • check of Thyroid-Stimulating Hormone (TSH) level and other thyroid blood work
  • fine needle biopsy
  • physical exam
  • thyroid scan
  • thyroid ultrasound

Thyroid nodules that are cancerous, causing breathing problems, causing swallowing problems, or creating other health issues, will likely need surgery to remove all or part of the thyroid gland, according to the NIH.

Noncancerous nodules should be watched carefully, with follow up physical exams and ultrasound. The NIH also recommends a thyroid biopsy be repeated six months to a year after the diagnosis, especially if the nodule has grown.

For more information about thyroid nodules, talk with your doctor or visit to find a physician.

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