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Thyroid nodules

Thyroid nodulesThyroid nodules are lumps that form inside your thyroid gland. They may be filled with fluid or thyroid tissue. They're quite common and most people who have them don't notice it until their doctor discovers them during a routine examination.

Your thyroid gland is found in the lower front of your neck. It produces thyroid hormones, which enter your blood and are carried through your body. Thyroid hormone is important because it helps your body use energy and stay warm. It also keeps your brain, heart, muscles and other organs working as they should.

Cancerous thyroid nodules are rare (fewer than five in every 100 people with thyroid nodules). You're at a higher risk of thyroid cancer if you:

Causes of thyroid nodules

There are several conditions that can cause thyroid nodules to develop in your thyroid gland. Here are a few examples:

Symptoms of thyroid nodules

Most thyroid nodules cause no symptoms at all. A nodule is usually noticed when a person feels a lump in their throat or sees it in a mirror. Sometimes your doctor may notice the swelling during a routine examination.

In rare cases, thyroid nodules may cause pain. If the nodule is large enough and positioned near the oesophagus, it can affect swallowing.

Diagnosing a thyroid nodule

Your doctor will try to determine whether the rest of your thyroid is healthy or if it's overactive (hyperthyroidism) or underactive (hypothyroidism). They'll ask you questions about your symptoms and will feel your thyroid to check whether the entire gland is enlarged. They'll also check whether many nodules are present or just one.

To check your thyroid gland function, your doctor will arrange blood tests to measure thyroid hormone levels. This is called a thyroid function test.

Sometimes your doctor may order more specialised tests, such as:

Treating a thyroid nodule

The treatment for a thyroid nodule depends on the diagnostic test findings and type of nodule.

If the thyroid nodule is benign (not cancer), the nodule can be left as is and watched closely to make sure it doesn't grow any larger. It may also be removed with surgery.

If the thyroid nodule is cancerous or your doctor is highly suspicious of cancer, the nodule will be removed with surgery. Most thyroid cancers can be cured and hardly ever cause life‑threatening problems.

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Adapted from Health Navigator by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed May 2020.

Sources

See also:

Goitre

Understanding your thyroid function results

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