Thyroid Cancer Symptoms Nodules

According to the American Thyroid Association, nodules on thyroid glands are the most common endocrine problem in the United States. Thyroid nodules develop as a result of excessive growth of thyroid cells. They can be large enough to be seen or felt, or so small they’re only detected by ultrasound. Nodules in thyroid glands are more common in women than men, and their frequency increases with age. About 70 percent of adults will have at least one nodule on their thyroid by the time they reach 70 years of age.

Thyroid nodules generally produce no symptoms. Some patients may report pain in the jaw or ear, a tickle in the throat or shortness of breath, depending on the size and location of the nodule. It’s important to see a doctor if you discover a lump in your throat, because of the connection between thyroid cancer and these growths.

Though a nodule could signify thyroid cancer or potential thyroid problems, more than 90 percent of thyroid nodules are benign.

Nodules in Thyroid Glands: Types

Thyroid nodules may be single or multiple. Multiple nodules clumped together are called “goiters.” The most common nodules are colloid nodules and follicular neoplasms — nodules filled with water or blood, which are actually cysts.

Cancerous thyroid nodules are classified according to the type of cancer cells they consist of, including:

  • Anaplastic
  • Follicular
  • Papillary
  • Medullary.

Thyroid Problems and Nodules

Sometimes nodules on thyroid glands keep on producing more thyroid hormones than the body needs. In such cases, symptoms of hyperthyroidism can result, which can include difficulty sleeping, anxiety and weight loss.

However, sometimes thyroid nodules may present in patients with too little thyroid hormone, which can result in hypothyroidism. Such cases are more common when patients have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune inflammatory disease of the thyroid.

Examining Nodules: Is it Cancer?

Doctors must examine thyroid nodules to see if they are cancerous. Physicians use a variety of tests to make a diagnosis, including:

  • Family history
  • Fine needle biopsy
  • Physical examination
  • Ultrasound.

Most nodules on thyroid glands are benign; a slight tenderness or pain in the area of the nodule is actually a good sign that the nodule is not cancerous. A family history of goiters and symptoms of thyroid problems also make it more likely that nodules are benign.

Warning signs of potential cancer of the thyroid and nodules include:

  • Age: Those older than 70 or younger than 20 are at increased risk
  • Gender: Males are more likely to develop thyroid cancer
  • Symptoms: Hoarseness or swallowing problems are indicative of thyroid cancer.

Ultrasounds and Detecting Thyroid Nodules

Nodules on thyroid glands used to be found only by sight and touch. Today, thanks to the development of ultrasounds and other imaging techniques, nodules can be detected when they’re much smaller.

Resources

Mayo clinic Staff. (2009). Thyroid nodules. Retrieved March 17, 2010, from the Mayo Clinic Web site: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/thyroid-nodules/ds00491.

American Thyroid Association Staff. (2005). Thyroid nodules. Retrieved March 17, 2010, from the American Thyroid Association Web site: http://www.thyroid.org/patients/brochures/Nodules_brochure.pdf.

Mathur, R. (2007). Thyroid nodules. Retrieved March 17, 2010, from the Medicinenet.com Web site: http://www.medicinenet.com/thyroid_nodules/article.htm.

Norman, J. (2009). Thyroid nodules. Retrieved March 17, 2010, from the EndocrineWeb Web site: http://www.endocrineweb.com/nodule.html.