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Thyroid nodules

The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of the neck.  It is part of the endocrine system and it makes and releases thyroid hormone which controls many aspects of metabolism including heart rate, energy consumption and body temperature.

What are thyroid nodules?

Thyroid nodules are growths in the gland which are common: by the age of 55 years they are detectable on ultrasound in 45% of women and 30% of men.  Most of these are benign (non-cancerous) – 95%.  However, it is important to distinguish the benign from malignant nodules.  Benign nodules may cause pressure symptoms and need treatment for this.

What are the symptoms of thyroid nodules?

There may be no symptoms, particularly if the thyroid nodule is small.

Larger thyroid nodules may cause compressive symptoms:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Shortness of breath on exertion
  • Inability to sleep lying flat
  • A feeling of tightness in the neck
  • An unsightly swelling
  • A hoarse voice is more suggestive of thyroid cancer

What causes thyroid nodules?

It’s not clear what causes thyroid nodules, but there are certain risk factors for benign nodules, such as:

  • Growing up in an iodine-deficient area
  • Family history
  • Goitrogenic foods/chemicals – classically the ‘brassica’ family of vegetables
  • Age – you’re more likely to develop them as you get older
  • Your gender – women are more likely to get them than men

How are thyroid nodules diagnosed?

If you have developed a lump in your neck or any of the other above symptoms, see your doctor.

To help make a diagnosis, they will ask you about your medical history and symptoms, and perform a physical examination, checking your neck for a lump.

Ultrasound scanning is the best method of diagnosing thyroid nodules and ascertaining whether they are benign.  CT scanning is reserved for large goitres which are extending into the chest.

How are thyroid nodules treated?

In most cases, your thyroid nodules will be non-cancerous and it may be the case that you won’t need any treatment. In some cases follow-up ultrasound scanning may be recommended.

Nodules which are causing compressive symptoms are treated with surgery – either hemi or total thyroidectomy.

Your doctor will discuss your options with you in detail and recommend what they think is the best option.

If you’re unsure what treatment you should go for, or the above treatments don’t work for you, our team of expert specialists are here to help.

This content has been checked and approved by

Miss Aimee Di Marco  ›

Miss Aimee Di Marco is an Endocrine Surgeon at King Edward VII’s Hospital.

Find your specialist in thyroid nodules at King Edward VII's Hospital

Dr Malcolm Prentice  ›
Special interests include:
Diabetes (+ 18) more
Miss Aimee Di Marco  ›
Special interests include:
Parathyroid surgery (+ 11) more

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