L. Stewart Lowry
Even the smallest change in our body can give us pause for concern and a raised area on the thyroid gland, also known as a nodule, is no exception.
A thyroid nodule is an abnormal growth of thyroid cells that forms a lump within the thyroid gland, which is located in the base of the neck. Most thyroid nodules go unnoticed until a doctor performs a routine exam on a person’s neck or the issue surfaces through imaging for another health concern. The good news is that while a thyroid nodule can contain cancerous cells, it is usually rare. The American Thyroid Association estimates that at least 90 percent of thyroid nodules are benign.
Still, it’s important to know that patients who are told they have a thyroid nodule or suspect they may have one should consult with their physician to have it properly diagnosed as benign or cancerous. Thyroid nodules that are diagnosed, biopsied and evaluated in their earliest stages of cancer are the easiest to treat.
If you have been diagnosed with a thyroid nodule, it’s important to keep the following points in mind:
You’re not alone – Thyroid nodules are extremely common, particularly among women. It is estimated that one in 15 young women have a thyroid nodule. By age 60, about one-half of all men and women will have had a thyroid nodule.
You’ll need to dig deeper — The initial discovery of a nodule may lead your provider to test your thyroid function. A thyroid nodule can be a sign that your thyroid has been affected by either hypothyroidism (where the gland is not producing enough hormone) or hyperthyroidism (where the gland is producing too much of its hormone).
You’ll be watched closely — Thyroid nodules that are benign will be watched closely with ultrasound examination every six to 12 months. Nodules that remain the same size and do not change in appearance will be left alone.
You may consider surgery — Surgery may be recommended for a nodule that is benign if it continues to grow or develops suspicious features seen on imaging. Some individuals may also be offered surgery if the nodule is making it difficult for them to swallow or breathe.
The thyroid gland isn’t a part of a person’s body that gets the credit it deserves. It’s small in size, but incredibly important to the function of a person’s entire body, from how fast their heart beats to how well their hair grows. It’s for this reason that the gland should be cared for with great respect and evaluated when any change in its appearance or feel changes.
L. Stewart Lowry, MD, FACS, is a surgeon with Premier Health Specialists who practices at Miami County Surgeons in Troy.