Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit, the AAFP patient education website.

Information from Your Family Doctor

Thyroid Nodules


Am Fam Physician. 2003 Feb 1;67(3):573-574.

What is a thyroid nodule?

A thyroid nodule is a lump in the thyroid gland in your neck.

Who gets thyroid nodules and why?

Almost 10 percent of adults have thyroid nodules. They are more common in women. More than 90 percent of all thyroid nodules are not cancerous. Some are actually cysts filled with fluid.

What are the symptoms of thyroid nodules?

Most thyroid nodules have no symptoms. Some people might notice a lump in their neck when they look in the mirror, but most people don't. Often, the lump is found by the doctor during a routine checkup or on other tests. Some people might have trouble swallowing, or have a feeling of fullness, pain, or pressure in the throat or neck.

How can my doctor tell if I have thyroid nodules?

Your doctor can do several different tests for thyroid nodules. One test is a fine-needle aspiration. Your doctor will take a tissue sample from your thyroid gland and examine it under a microscope to see if it is cancerous. The sample is taken with a very small needle.

Another test your doctor may do is an ultrasound. It uses sound waves to make a picture of the shape of the thyroid and the size of the nodules. It can help your doctor to decide if the nodule is a solid tumor or a cyst.

A third test is a thyroid scan. Your doctor will have you drink a small amount of radioactive iodine that is absorbed by your thyroid gland. Your doctor will take a picture as this iodine glows in the gland. Your doctor can learn about the nodule depending on how much or how little of the iodine shows in the picture.

How are thyroid nodules treated?

Most thyroid nodules are not cancerous. Of the nodules that are cancerous, most can be treated. Some patients may take hormone pills to shrink the size of the nodule if there is no cancer. Others may be asked to watch the nodule to see if it goes away by itself. Patients treated this way should be checked by their doctor every six months. As long as the nodule does not grow, there's no need to worry. If the nodule is found to be cancerous or grows with hormone pill treatment, surgery to remove the nodule may be needed.

Where can I get more information?

American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists

1000 Riverside Ave., Suite 205

Jacksonville, FL 32204

Telephone: 1-904-353-7878


American Thyroid Association, Inc.

6066 Leesburg Pike, Suite 650

Falls Church, VA 22041

Telephone: 1-703-998-8890


The Endocrine Society

4350 E. West Hwy., Suite 500

Bethesda, MD 20814-4426

Telephone: 1-301-941-0200


The Thyroid Foundation of America

410 Stuart Street

Boston, MA 02116

Telephone: 1-800-832-8321


The Thyroid Society for Education and Research

7515 S. Main St., Suite 545

Houston, TX 77030

Telephone: 1-800-THYROID (1-800-849-7643)


This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.


Copyright © 2003 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP. Contact for copyright questions and/or permission requests.

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