Thyroid Nodule Surgery: What to Expect from Our Endocrinologists

A thyroid nodule is an abnormal growth in the thyroid gland. While that may sound like a cause of concern, thyroid nodules are in fact very common among Americans. An estimated 50 to 70 percent of all adults have nodules and the likelihood of having one is positively correlated with the progression of age. Most people never experience any symptoms, leaving most cases undetected.

For the most part, thyroid nodules stay small, benign and harmless. However, around 5-10 percent of all cases do involve cancer cells. To prevent serious medical issues stemming from cancerous thyroid nodules, endocrinologists recommend getting yourself checked once you notice any symptoms.

Symptoms

In general, thyroid nodules can be seen or felt due to their size. A nodule is usually a palpable lump that does not necessarily hurt when touched, but is still a cause for concern. In some cases, the growth may be accompanied by:

  • Erratic heart rates
  • Rapid breathing
  • Heat intolerance
  • Abrupt and unexplained weight loss
  • Anxiety

If you’re experiencing one or a combination of the symptoms listed above, consult a doctor immediately. Early detection is a key in the successful treatment of thyroid disorders.

Diagnosis

The diagnostic process of thyroid nodules begins with a simple physical examination at the doctor’s office. The doctor will see and feel the lump’s tenderness, mobility, and position. These yield valuable clues that will give a medical team a better grasp of the patient’s condition. The doctor may also ask the patient about his or her recent state of health to find out if there are accompanying symptoms that might suggest hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism.

The next step is usually a dedicated thyroid and neck ultrasound. With this test, inaudible sounds will be sent through the patient’s neck to measure the nodule’s size, determine its shape and to tell whether it’s solid, fluid or a mixture of both. Having experienced radiologists, endocrine surgeons, or endocrinologists will greatly increase the accuracy of the test results.

Your doctor will then decide whether there is a need for a fine needle aspiration biopsy or not. This type of biopsy will reveal one of four results:

  • Inadequate specimen
  • Benign
  • Malignant
  • Indeterminate

In the event that inadequate specimen findings are declared, patients will be asked to have a second biopsy. Patients who receive indeterminate results will often be advised to undergo surgery.

Medication and Surgery

Not all thyroid nodules have to be taken out with surgery. Unless the nodule is malignant or the patient’s breathing/swallowing is obstructed, your endocrinologist may not advise you to undergo an operation. Surgery involves significant recovery time and it carries a set of complication risks. Changes in voice, infections, damage to nearby nerves and stunted thyroid hormone production are all possible after-effects of surgery.

If the thyroid gland’s enlargement is due to non-cancerous causes, medication, iodine or radioiodine treatments may be administered. Only when the nodule is cancerous, obstructive or very unsightly will most doctors suggest surgical solutions.

After surgery, patients tend to experience sore throats and some vocal hoarseness. This discomfort usually goes away after 7-14 days.


More Articles on Thyroid Surgery:
Thyroid Cancer Treatment: What the Future Holds
When is Surgery for Hyperthyroidism Recommended by Endocrinologists
Working with Your Endocrinologist for the Care of Pediatric and AYA Thyroid Surgery Patients