(See also Overview of Thyroid Function Overview of Thyroid Function The thyroid gland, located in the anterior neck just below the cricoid cartilage, consists of 2 lobes connected by an isthmus. Follicular cells in the gland produce the 2 main thyroid hormones... read more .)
The reported incidence varies with the method of assessment. In middle-aged and older patients, palpation reveals nodules in about 5%. Results of ultrasonography and autopsy studies suggest that nodules are present in about 50% of older adults. Many nodules are found incidentally on thyroid imaging studies done for other disorders.
Most nodules are benign. Benign causes include
Hyperplastic colloid goiter
Evaluation of a Thyroid Nodule
Pain suggests thyroiditis or hemorrhage into a cyst. An asymptomatic nodule may be malignant but is usually benign. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism suggest a hyperfunctioning adenoma or thyroiditis, whereas symptoms of hypothyroidism suggest Hashimoto thyroiditis Hashimoto Thyroiditis Hashimoto thyroiditis is chronic autoimmune inflammation of the thyroid with lymphocytic infiltration. Findings include painless thyroid enlargement and symptoms of hypothyroidism. Diagnosis... read more . Risk factors for thyroid cancer include
History of thyroid irradiation, especially in infancy or childhood
Age < 20 years
Family history of thyroid cancer Thyroid Cancers There are 4 general types of thyroid cancer. Most thyroid cancers manifest as asymptomatic nodules. Rarely, lymph node, lung, or bone metastases cause the presenting symptoms of small thyroid... read more or multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 Overview of Multiple Endocrine Neoplasias (MEN) The multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN) syndromes comprise 3 genetically distinct familial diseases involving adenomatous hyperplasia and malignant tumors in several endocrine glands. MEN 1 involves... read more
A solitary nodule
Increasing size (particularly rapid growth or growth while receiving thyroid suppression treatment)
Signs that suggest thyroid cancer include stony, hard consistency or fixation to surrounding structures, cervical lymphadenopathy, and hoarseness due to recurrent laryngeal nerve paralysis.
Initial evaluation of a thyroid nodule consists of testing for Laboratory Testing of Thyroid Function The thyroid gland, located in the anterior neck just below the cricoid cartilage, consists of 2 lobes connected by an isthmus. Follicular cells in the gland produce the 2 main thyroid hormones... read more
Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH)
Antithyroid peroxidase antibodies
If thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) is suppressed, radioiodine scanning is done. Nodules with increased radionuclide uptake (hot) are seldom malignant. If thyroid function tests do not indicate hyperthyroidism Hyperthyroidism Hyperthyroidism is characterized by hypermetabolism and elevated serum levels of free thyroid hormones. Symptoms are many and include tachycardia, fatigue, weight loss, nervousness, and tremor... read more or Hashimoto thyroiditis, fine-needle aspiration biopsy done under ultrasound guidance is done to distinguish benign from malignant nodules. Early use of fine-needle aspiration biopsy is a more economic approach than routine use of radioiodine scans.
Ultrasonography is useful in determining the size of the nodule; fine-needle aspiration biopsy is not routinely indicated for nodules < 1 cm on ultrasonography or for nodules that are entirely cystic. Ultrasonography is rarely diagnostic of cancer, although cancer is suggested by certain ultrasonographic or x-ray findings:
Fine, stippled, psammomatous calcification ( papillary thyroid carcinoma Papillary Thyroid Carcinoma There are 4 general types of thyroid cancer. Most thyroid cancers manifest as asymptomatic nodules. Rarely, lymph node, lung, or bone metastases cause the presenting symptoms of small thyroid... read more )
Hypoechogenicity, irregular borders, height greater than width on transverse section, irregular macrocalcifications, or rarely dense, homogeneous calcification ( medullary thyroid carcinoma Medullary Thyroid Carcinoma There are 4 general types of thyroid cancer. Most thyroid cancers manifest as asymptomatic nodules. Rarely, lymph node, lung, or bone metastases cause the presenting symptoms of small thyroid... read more )
Treatment of a Thyroid Nodule
Treatment of underlying disorder
Treatment is directed at the underlying disorder. Thyroxine suppression of TSH to shrink smaller benign nodules is effective in no more than half the cases and is seldom done. Thyroxine is not used to treat cancerous nodules.