Thyroid nodules are a common finding, with up to half of the population having at least one nodule on their thyroid gland. In most cases, these nodules are benign and do not cause any symptoms or health concerns. However, in some cases, thyroid nodules can be a sign of a more serious underlying condition.
Knowing when to worry about thyroid nodules can help individuals and their healthcare providers determine the appropriate course of action, whether it be doing nothing, monitoring the nodule over time or pursuing further diagnostic testing and treatment. In this article, we will discuss the key factors to consider when evaluating thyroid nodules and when it may be necessary to seek medical attention.
What are thyroid nodules?
Thyroid nodules are abnormal growths or lumps that form within the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland located in the neck, which produces hormones that regulate metabolism and other bodily functions.
Thyroid nodules are relatively common, and while most are benign (non-cancerous) and do not cause any symptoms, some nodules can be malignant (cancerous) and require medical attention. Some thyroid nodules may be benign (i.e. not cancer) but cause pressure symptoms on neck structures – see below. Thyroid nodules can vary in size, shape, and composition and may be detected during a routine physical exam, imaging tests, or when symptoms such as difficulty swallowing or a lump in the neck appear.
What are the causes of thyroid nodules?
The exact cause of thyroid nodules is unclear, but several factors can contribute to their development. In some cases, thyroid nodules may be caused by a benign overgrowth of thyroid cells or an autoimmune disorder such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Exposure to radiation, particularly during childhood, can also increase the risk of developing thyroid nodules. In rare cases, nodules can be a sign of thyroid cancer.
Other risk factors for thyroid nodules include:
- Gender (women are considered more likely to develop nodules than men)
- Family history of thyroid nodules or thyroid cancer
It is important to note that in most cases, the cause of thyroid nodules is unknown and is not necessarily related to any particular risk factor.
When to worry about thyroid nodules?
Determining when to worry about thyroid nodules is an important consideration for individuals and their healthcare providers. In general, most thyroid nodules are benign and do not require immediate medical attention. However, certain characteristics of nodules may warrant further investigation.
For example, nodules larger than 1 centimetre, have irregular borders, are growing rapidly, or are associated with symptoms such as difficulty swallowing or hoarseness, may require further evaluation with diagnostic tests such as a fine-needle aspiration biopsy of the nodule using ultrasound scan guidance. Additionally, individuals who have a family history of thyroid cancer or who have been exposed to radiation may need closer monitoring of their nodules.
Finally, experiencing symptoms of hyperthyroidism (such as weight loss, anxiety, or increased heart rate) or hypothyroidism (such as fatigue, weight gain, or cold intolerance) can indicate that the nodule affects thyroid function and may require further evaluation.
It is important to note that while thyroid nodules can be concerning, the majority of nodules are not cancerous and can be managed through careful observation and follow-up.
Get in touch
If you have concerns about thyroid nodules or are experiencing any of the mentioned warning signs, it is important to seek the advice of a medical professional. Your healthcare provider can assess your risk factors and recommend appropriate diagnostic tests or treatment options if necessary.
Mr. Olarinde is an Ear, Nose and Throat surgeon who is well-experienced in treating thyroid lumps and can advise you on the best course of action based on your symptoms. Book a consultation online or get in touch on 0114 321 6522.