Thyroid nodules: Overview

There is always a possibility of malignancy or cancer when a thyroid nodule is found. However, most of thyroid nodules are benign or noncancerous, but tests are needed to determine if a nodule is cancerous.

Updated: September 29, 2019

Thyroid nodules are solid or fluid-filled lumps which are formed within or on your thyroid gland that is at the base of your neck, below the voicebox (larynx) and above the collarbones.
There is always a possibility of malignancy or cancer when a thyroid nodule is found. However, most of thyroid nodules are benign or noncancerous, but tests are needed to determine if a nodule is cancerous.
Benign nodules include multinodular goiter, benign follicular adenomas and thyroid cysts. When the thyroid gland has grown too large, it is called as a goiter which are nontoxic in nature. A multinodular goiter is formed as a result of excessive secreation of thyroid stimulating hormone by pituitary gland. It can be treated with thyroid hormone pills if the size of goiter is small. But if the goiter is large or does not stop growing after taking thyroid hormones, surgery is needed. A large thyroid gland can press against the trachea or esophagus causing difficult breathing or eating.
If a group of small circles or the follicular cells are contained within the nodule, the condition is called benign. Cancer is diagnosed when these cells have invaded the surrounding tissue.
When nodules are filled with fluid, it is called as thyroid cysts. It is called a complex nodule, if a nodule has both fluid and solid parts . They need to be surgically removed if they cause neck pain or difficultly swallowing.
When the nodules become large they can be felt or seen as a swelling at the base of your neck. Sometimes it press on your trachea or esophagus, causing shortness of breath or difficulty swallowing.
Nodules can be caused by several reasons, such as overgrowth of normal thyroid tissue, fluid-filled cysts, inflammation of thyroid gland or thyroiditis or a tumor, either cancerous or noncancerous.
Although most thyroid nodules are noncancerous and do not cause problems, it is important to evaluate the possibility of cancer especially if you have trouble breathing or swallowing.
In addition to biopsy of a nodule to to rule out the possibility of cancer, a physical examination, thyroid function tests, thyroid scan and ultrasonography can be done for proper diagnosis.
Thyroid function tests help determine if the thyroid gland is functioning normally. Thyroid function tests are a series of blood tests which include T3, T4, and TSH and are done to determine how well your thyroid gland is working. Thyroid is a small butterfly shaped gland that is located in the lower-front part of your neck that typically produces three hormones namely triiodothyronine (T3), thyroxine (T4), and calcitonin. The thyroid produces hormones when the pituitary gland releases TSH in the blood. Thyroid-stimulating hormone or TSH is responsible for regulation of metabolism, release of hormones by the thyroid gland, energy generation, and mood. A TSH blood test to check for the existence of any underlying causes of a typical production of hormones in these two glands. If the TSH level comes abnormal, then further screening for overactive or underactive thyroid gland is done.
Treatment of thyroid nodule depends on the type of thyroid nodule you have whether it is benign or malignant. The most common treatment for a nodule that is cancerous usually involves surgery where as other treatment options such as thyroid hormone suppression therapy, radioactive iodine and anti-thyroid medications are advised for a non cancerous nodule. These can be an option for cancerous nodule after the surgery.

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