Thyroid Nodule

The definition of a thyroid nodule is a discrete lesion within the thyroid gland that is radiologically distinct from the surrounding parenchyma. It simple refers to an abnormal growth of the thyroid cells that forms within the thyroid gland.

Thyroid nodules represent a common clinical problem. In fact, the lifetime risk for developing a palpable thyroid nodule is estimated to be 5-10%, however, with the use of ultrasound thyroid nodules could be identified up to 70% of the population. 

Thyroid nodules are more common in women and in the elderly. Although thyroid nodules are very common, thoughtful evaluation and consultation by an expert thyroid cancer surgeon is required for thyroid nodules given that a small percentage of them have cancer.

What is the thyroid gland?

The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland that is located anterior and lateral to the windpipe. The gland makes the thyroid hormones, which help us keep our energy and vital organs such as the brain, heart, and muscles to function properly.

What are the symptoms of a thyroid nodule?

The majority of thyroid nodules do not cause symptoms. In fact, most thyroid nodules are identified during a routine checkup by your primary care doctor or as incidental finding on imaging tests such as ultrasound or CT scan of the neck.  Sometimes nodules can cause a visible lump in the neck or an uncomfortable pressure sensation on the anterior neck. When the gland or nodule is very large, it can also cause problems to swallow. Rarely, hoarseness can be caused if the nodule is affecting the nerve that controls the vocal cords but this is usually related to thyroid cancer.

Finally, in a small percent of patients with thyroid nodules can produce thyroid hormone in excess given symptoms of hyperthyroidism such as heat intolerance, nervousness, tremor, rapid heart rate and unexplained weight loss. Although this is very uncommon, this is the reason why patients with thyroid nodules should have thyroid function tests (TSH).

  • Thyroid nodules generally do not cause symptoms.
  • Thyroid function tests are usually normal (TSH).
  • Most thyroid nodules are found during a routine physical exam or by imaging.

Why is important to evaluate thyroid nodules?

Although the vast majority of thyroid nodules are benign, the clinical importance of thyroid nodules rests with the need to exclude thyroid cancer. Up to 7-15% of thyroid nodules will have cancer depending on the age, gender, family history of cancer and history of radiation exposure.

Therefore, in order to diagnose and treat thyroid cancer at the earliest stage, most thyroid nodules require evaluation by a thyroid specialist with experience in management and evaluation of thyroid nodules and thyroid cancer such as Dr. Santillan who is an experience surgical oncologist and endocrine surgeon.