The thyroid gland is a butterfly shaped gland located over the base of the neck. The thyroid gland makes thyroid hormone which circulates throughout the body to help control growth and metabolism. It is possible to have an overactive or underactive thyroid gland; these conditions are usually treated medically. A primary care doctor and/or endocrinologist will help with diagnosing and treating disorders of thyroid gland function.
A thyroid nodule is an abnormal growth within the thyroid gland. Most of these are asymptomatic and usually found on routine physical exam by your doctor or through imaging such an ultrasound or a CT scan. Nodules can by very small, 1-2mm or very large, up to several centimeters. There can be only one nodule or there can be multiple thyroid nodules. Most nodules do not cause any symptoms. Depending on the size, shape and location some nodules can cause symptoms which may include pressure in the throat, lump in the back of the throat, choking sensation, difficulty swallowing or visible swelling.
The first step in evaluating a thyroid nodule is to do an ultrasound of the thyroid. This determines the size, shape, location and any distinguishing characteristics of the thyroid nodule. If the nodule meets specific criteria the second step in evaluation is doing a fine needle aspiration biopsy to obtain a sample of tissue to see if the nodule is cancerous or benign. (can add U/S and FNA link here)
Treatment options depend on type of nodule, size of the nodule and the patients symptoms. Most patients will only need to have their thyroid nodule monitored. Other cases can be treated with medication and in some cases thyroid surgery is required to remove the thyroid nodule.
If surgery is recommended, this is completed in the operating room under general anesthesia. In most cases, this can be accomplished through a small incision, about one inch, in the neck. The thyroid gland is shaped like a butterfly overlying the windpipe (trachea) low in the neck. Each half of the gland is called a lobe. Depending on the situation, it may be recommended to remove half of the gland (a lobectomy) or the entire gland (total thyroidectomy). In some situations, patients will also have lymph nodes removed from the neck.