Thyroid Nodules: When to Worry

Thyroid Nodules: When to Worry

About half of people in the United States develop a thyroid nodule (or several) by the time they reach 60 years of age, but many are unaware of the issue because the growths don’t lead to symptoms. More encouraging is the fact that more than 90% of thyroid nodules are benign (noncancerous).

That said, some thyroid nodules can be problematic in terms of symptoms or because they are cancerous, but the good news is that we can treat the problem in most cases. Dr. Sean P. Nikravan and our team specialize in thyroid disease, and we have extensive experience helping our patients remedy problems that develop in this all-important gland.

In this post, we explore when thyroid nodules may be cause for concern and how we can get you on the road to better health.

Thyroid nodules 101

Most thyroid nodules are benign growths that form due to abnormal thyroid cells. Thyroid nodules may be solid or develop as fluid-filled cysts, and they’re often so small that most people are unaware of their existence. If a nodule does grow large enough, you may spot a lump under your skin at the front of your neck.

Thyroid nodules tend to develop in women more than men, and fewer than one in 20 nodules in either gender is cancerous.

When nodules are problematic

There are, generally, two instances in which thyroid nodules can pose problems. The first is when a nodule grows large enough that it leads to:

Again, nodules that grow large enough to cause symptoms are quite rare, but they do make themselves known.

The other instance in which a thyroid nodule can be worrisome is if it’s cancerous (again, this occurs in fewer than 5% of cases). While the numbers may be low when it comes to cancerous nodules, it’s important to have us take a look so we can either rule out this possibility or take early action against the cancer.

Diagnosing problematic nodules

If we discover thyroid nodules that you were unaware of or if you come to us because of a symptomatic nodule, our first step is to perform an ultrasound. Through ultrasound, we can determine the size, location, and composition of the nodule(s) — information that guides our next steps.

If we believe a nodule deserves closer examination, we perform a thyroid nodule biopsy. Blood tests to determine the presence of thyroid cancer are generally ineffective and inconclusive, which is why we turn to a biopsy. During this quick procedure, we aspirate a sample of the nodule tissue through a needle and then examine this tissue for evidence of cancerous cells.

Treating problematic nodules

If we determine that your thyroid nodule is cause for concern, either because of its size or location or because it contains cancerous cells, our next step is to eliminate the abnormal tissue, which we can accomplish without surgery.

At our practice, we offer thyroid radiofrequency ablation (RFA), a technique in which we target the nodule with radiofrequency energy, which heats up and destroys the abnormal tissue.

The bottom line is that most thyroid nodules aren’t cause for concern, but we recommend that you have us thoroughly evaluate any nodules that may develop. If you have more questions about thyroid nodules, please contact our office in Newport Beach, California, to set up a consultation.

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