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Thyroid Nodules and Cancer

The thyroid gland is located in the neck and controls the body’s metabolism. Thyroid nodules are a result of thyroid cells lumping together within the gland, creating an abnormal growth. These are distinguished as:

  • Thyroid nodules: Growths that are benign and may not require treatment.
  • Thyroid cancer: Malignant growths. It is not a common form of cancer, and can usually be detected early.
  • Multinodular goiter: A goiter (enlargement of the thyroid) made up of several nodules.

Risk Factors of Thyroid Nodules and Cancer

Though the direct causes of these growths are unknown, they are more likely in those who:

  • Have a family history of thyroid nodules or cancer
  • Are of advanced age
  • Have previously had radiation treatment

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Thyroid Nodules and Cancer

Thyroid nodules do not always grow to a noticeable size, so you may not necessarily feel them. Some of the common symptoms include:

  • Throat pain
  • Difficulty swallowing or breathing
  • Anxiety or difficulty sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Increased heart rate
  • Unintentional weight loss

Unlike nodules, cancerous growths commonly are identified by a lump or swelling in the neck. Other symptoms that may appear are:

  • Pain in the neck, sometimes reaching the ears
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Trouble breathing or wheezing
  • Persistent cough

Diagnosis will also vary depending on the condition. As a nodule is not always apparent to the touch during a physical exam, your physician will talk to you about your symptoms and request additional imaging (CT, ultrasound, thyroid scan) to examine the thyroid, blood tests to check hormone levels and potentially a biopsy to extract a small amount of the nodule for examination.

Thyroid cancer may be initially recognized by its growth, which can often be felt during a physical exam. Your primary care physician will additionally request imaging and blood tests. At NorthShore, we perform biopsies in office, and also provide molecular marker testing, which tests cells from your biopsy to see genetic mutations or changes that lead to a more accurate cancer diagnosis.    

Treatment Options for Thyroid Nodules and Cancer

Our treatment approach works to target the specific type of growth present within the thyroid. Your endocrinologist collaborates with your primary care physician to monitor the size of non-cancerous nodules, as well as their effect, if any, on hormone production. If nodules are large or causing discomfort, an endocrine or otolaryngologist-head and neck surgeon will develop a plan for surgical options if necessary.

Upon diagnosis of thyroid cancer, our team uses urgency in determining a comprehensive care plan, involving your endocrinologist, primary care physician and specialists within pathology, surgery and radiation oncology. Each member of your care team will remain up-to-date on each part of the treatment process using our electronic medical record system, consult on surgical and therapy options, and follow up with medicinal treatments to keep your thyroid healthy after therapy.

Additionally, our endocrinologists continually participate in research through ongoing clinical trials to work towards more personalized treatment options and methods for identifying causes of thyroid cancer. 

For More Information

For more information on thyroid nodules and cancer, please call 847.663.8540.