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9 Things You Should Know About Thyroid Nodules

  1. What is the thyroid gland?

It is a butterfly-shaped, hormone-producing gland located in the anterior portion of the neck. Its main function is to produce thyroid hormone, responsible for the body’s use of energy, temperature and normal function of other organs.

  1. What is a goiter?

It is the swelling or enlargement of the thyroid gland. Sometimes the term is used to indicate the presence of one or multiple thyroid nodules.

  1. What is a thyroid nodule?

It is an abnormal growth of thyroid cells. Most thyroid nodules are benign (noncancerous), with only a small number of them being cancerous.

  1. How common are they?

It depends. In the United States, four to seven percent of the adult population has palpable thyroid nodules. We know the prevalence is much higher as we age, especially in women. By age 60, around 50 percent of the population can be found to have thyroid nodules on exam or with imaging.

  1. What causes them?

We don’t know what exactly causes them.

  1. What are the symptoms of a thyroid nodule?

Most thyroid nodules will not cause any symptoms, and will not affect the normal function of the thyroid. Ndules are often found incidentally during routine physical exam or on imaging (CAT scans or neck ultrasound) done for unrelated reasons. Rarely, symptoms of neck fullness, difficulty speaking, swallowing or breathing can occur depending on the nodule location and/or size.

  1. How is a thyroid nodule evaluated?

After a nodule is discovered, thyroid labs and an ultrasound should be performed. The need for a thyroid fine needle aspiration biopsy (FNA or FNAB) can be determined after this.

  1. What is a thyroid FNA?

While using the ultrasound for guidance, a very small needle is inserted into the thyroid nodule. Generally, no preparation is required before the procedure. However, blood thinners may need to be temporarily stopped before the procedure. This should not be done without first discussing with your healthcare provider.

  1. How are thyroid nodules treated?

For nodules that are benign on FNA or do not meet the criteria for FNA, surveillance is suggested. This can be done by repeating a thyroid ultrasound in six to 12 months. For nodules that are suspicious for cancer, surgical removal should be considered.