A thyroid nodule is a swelling that develops in the thyroid gland. It can be due to growth of thyroid cells or a collection of fluid known as a cyst.

Thyroid nodules are relatively common. They can be felt in approximately 6% of women and 2% of men. Sensitive testing by ultrasound can reveal small nodules in as many as one third of all adults.

Thyroid nodules can cause problems for patients in three ways:

  • They can become large enough to press on nearby structures in the neck, such as the swallowing tube (esophagus) and windpipe (trachea).
  • They can overproduce thyroid hormones (hyperthyroidism).
  • They can become cancerous.

Most thyroid nodules are benign growths that may increase in size but do not spread beyond the thyroid gland.

About 5% of nodules turn out to be malignant growths, which are cancers that can spread beyond the thyroid gland to other parts of the neck and other areas of the body.

One of the most important questions that should be answered when a thyroid nodule is identified is whether it may represent a form of thyroid cancer.

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