Throat nodules are lumps that appear in the neck and fall into two general categories: thyroid nodules and vocal cord nodules. They are quite common and most are benign, not even causing pain, but in a small number of cases, they can be a sign of cancer. Thyroid nodules may indicate that the gland is producing too much hormone. Vocal cord nodules, also called vocal fold nodules, are of a mass of tissue that grows on the vocal cords and do not usually affect the patient's general health.
Thyroid nodules are more common in women than in men, with 1 in 12 to 15 young women having them. By contrast, only 1 in 40 young men have this condition. The likelihood that a person has throat nodules increases with age, with 50% of all 50-year-olds and 70% of 70-year-olds having at least one. These lumps should not be confused with goiters, which are growths within the thyroid gland.
Although a nodule can occasionally cause pain or difficulty in swallowing, most produce no symptoms. They are often discovered when the patient or a medical professional feels or sees the lump or when radiology procedures are used to diagnose of other disease or injuries. Medical professionals often use a fine needle aspiration biopsy (FNA) to obtain tissue with which to determine if the nodules are benign or cancerous.
If throat nodules are discovered by the patient, they should be assessed by an endocrinologist, endocrine surgeon, or other medical professional familiar with the diagnostic procedures involved. This assessment usually involves finding out if the patient has received radiation treatment or has been exposed to nuclear radiation, especially as a child or teenager. There is a small increased risk of thyroid cancer among people exposed to such ionizing radiation.
Vocal cord nodules may result in hoarseness, reduced vocal range, breaks in speech, and pain when speaking or singing. They appear on both sides of the vocal cords as symmetrical swellings and affect the vocal folds' ability to make the rapid air pressure change necessary to produce speech. Their cause is usually the result of strenuous vocal cord use, such as shouting, screaming, and coughing. People who must use their voices in loud settings are most susceptible to this problem, with singers, preachers, teachers, and drill instructors at greatest risk.
Treatment of vocal cord nodules often involves speech therapy and vocal training. The lumps are sometimes removed surgically, and this is considered a relatively safe procedure. On occasion, it is necessary to address the psychological consequences of throat nodules, particularly in the case of singers and actors.