A diagnosis or even the suspicion of thyroid nodules can raise a lot of questions and concerns in people, and understandably so. There is a lot to know about thyroid nodules, and familiarizing yourself with the statistics, symptoms, and treatment options can help you feel much more at ease as you move forward. You may be surprised to know that nearly half of humanity develops at least one thyroid nodule by the time they reach their 60's. Needless to say, if your last medical exam has revealed a nodule on your thyroid, you are not alone, and it is not necessarily a reason to be anxious or upset.
What is a Thyroid Nodule?
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in your lower neck, and it is responsible for releasing various vital hormones that regulate metabolism, body temperature, menstrual cycles, and more. In short, our bodies don't function well without this little gland unless there is additional medical assistance. Sometimes abnormal growths appear on the thyroid (it may be one growth or several); these are called nodules and are often present without causing any noticeable symptoms at all.
Nodules come in many forms, and can be solid, fluid-filled, or even have blood flowing into them. They are more common in women (perhaps due to the higher fluctuation of hormones), the elderly, and people who have been exposed to radiation (even in their childhood years). Symptoms manifest when nodules begin to interfere with or accelerate the production of hormones; hormonal symptoms might include:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Thinning hair
- Temperature imbalances
- Unusually rapid heart rate
Thyroid nodules can eventually even be felt when they become large enough; they may also result in steadily-increasing neck pain, or cause difficulty in swallowing and breathing.
What Causes Thyroid Nodules?
The cause of thyroid nodules is unknown, but there seems to be a link to some other conditions such as Hashimoto's thyroiditis and iron deficiency; these conditions, however, do not account for the entire 50% of the populace that develops nodules.
Are Nodules Cancerous?
Many people become very concerned when they hear about abnormal growths, equating them with cancer. Are Thyroid nodules cancerous? The answer is sometimes yes, but usually no. Only around 5% of nodule biopsies reveal malignant cells.
How Are They Treated?
Treatments for thyroid nodules vary depending on their size, and also on the results of the evaluation. Your doctor will examine the thyroid to determine if it is healthy; this is usually achieved through an ultrasound that can show how many nodules are present, what the sizes are, and if any look suspicious of cancerous material. If the thyroid seems healthy and the nodules aren't large, the doctor may send you home with the understanding that the nodules will be monitored over the next few years to check for growth or shrinkage.
Treatment for Hormonal Interference
If the nodules are causing hormonal surges, one of two simple treatments will be necessary to shrink the nodules down.
- Radioactive iodine is one option for shrinking nodules. The thyroid is the only gland in the body that absorbs iodine, so the effects are very isolated. It is taken in pill form and results in the reduction of thyroid hormones.
- Ethanol ablation is another effective treatment that is performed by injecting alcohol into the nodules with a small needle. This also results in the shrinkage of the nodule and reduction of hormones that are produced.
Fine Needle Aspiration Biopsy (FNAB)
If an ultrasound reveals some suspicious tissue on the thyroid, your doctor will probably recommend a fine needle aspiration biopsy that can be performed right in the office. This procedure is simple, quick, and not nearly as painful as it sounds; in fact, it doesn't even necessitate a pain killer unless you insist. A tiny needle is inserted into a nodule, and samples are taken for examination by a pathologist who will carefully inspect the samples for cancer cells.
Treatment for Cancerous Nodules
Most of the results of the fine needle aspiration biopsy confirm benign (noncancerous) tissue, but occasionally cancer is found. In the case of malignant (cancerous) cells, the nodule will have to be surgically removed by an endocrinologist. This surgery consists of an incision at the base of the neck, and often the removal of part of the thyroid gland as well to prevent the spread of any cancer. If part or all of the thyroid is removed, your doctor may need to prescribe some levothyroxine medication to help your hormones balance out.
Thyroid nodule cancer is usually slow-growing and curable, although some rare types are more rapid and aggressive. The most important preventative measure is being tested before the nodules have the chance to grow large.
C/V ENT Surgical Group Can Help You
Our highly-skilled head and neck surgeons at C/V ENT Surgical Group are here to support and assist you in the case of necessary thyroid nodule surgery. We treat our clients with the utmost respect and choose to take the least invasive route whenever possible. Our procedures require a tiny incision (1 to 1.5 inches) compared to the incisions of other surgeons around the country, and we strive to respect the location of the scars.
Our technology is up-to-date and top of the line, giving us efficiency and reliability with delicate procedures when we take care of your needs; and it's so important to us, that we have even begun educating other surgeons in these areas as well! The cutting-edge equipment we use, along with our skill and compassion, has ranked us at the top of our profession.
We can be found in three locations in the Los Angeles and Thousand Oaks area; one of our offices is in Encino, another in Westlake Village, and one more in West Hills. Meet our team of renowned surgeons and let us be the remedy to all of your ENT needs; schedule your consultation today!