Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education website.

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Am Fam Physician. 2003;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

    Web address:www.aace.com

  • American Thyroid Association, Inc.

    6066 Leesburg Pike, Suite 650

    Falls Church, VA 22041

    Telephone: 1-703-998-8890

    Web address:www.thyroid.org

  • The Endocrine Society

    4350 E. West Hwy., Suite 500

    Bethesda, MD 20814-4426

    Telephone: 1-301-941-0200

    Web address:www.endo-society.org

  • The Thyroid Foundation of America

    410 Stuart Street

    Boston, MA 02116

    Telephone: 1-800-832-8321

    Web address:www.tsh.org

  • The Thyroid Society for Education and Research

    7515 S. Main St., Suite 545

    Houston, TX 77030

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

    Web address:www.the-thyroid-society.org

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