A benign thyroid nodule is a noncancerous mass that originates from within the thyroid gland just above the sternum. Most nodules form due to an atypical thyroid condition or chronic disease. Treatment for a benign thyroid nodule may range from close monitoring to the use of drug therapy or surgery. If a benign thyroid nodule remains undiagnosed, it may mature to impair throat function or contribute to the onset of thyroid disease. Rarely, a benign thyroid nodule may turn malignant; therefore, appropriate diagnosis and treatment are keys to a successful prognosis.
Thyroid nodules are generally inadvertently detected during routine testing. To discount the possibility of malignancy, several diagnostic tests may be performed on the nodule. Thyroid function tests are usually conducted to measure hormone levels and evaluate gland function. Fine-needle aspiration may also be utilized to obtain a sample of the nodule for laboratory analysis. Imaging tests, including ultrasound, may also be performed to evaluate the condition of the thyroid and assess the location, size and shape of the growth.
Several situations may contribute to benign thyroid nodule development. Individuals can possess a genetic predisposition for thyroid nodules if their parents or siblings have been diagnosed with the condition. Existing thyroid disease, such as hyperthyroidism, and cyst formation most commonly precipitate benign thyroid nodule development. Certain inflammatory conditions may also cause gland irritation that leads to nodule growth.
Since most individuals are unaware they have a benign thyroid nodule, it stands to reason that they remain asymptomatic and exhibit no symptoms. When signs do occur, the nodule is usually large enough to be seen or felt. Considering thyroid nodules are composed of hormone-based chemicals, the nodules generally excrete excess amino acids that can trigger additional symptoms. Some individuals may suddenly develop an arrhythmia, pronounced weight loss or behavioral changes.
If a thyroid nodule is ignored or inappropriately treated, it may progress to form a goiter. Usually consisting of multiple nodules, a goiter can present functional and cosmetic issues if it grows too large. The condition normally causes multiple symptoms similar to those associated with nodule growth, as well as hoarseness and a persistent cough.
A benign thyroid nodule that remains small and causes no issues generally only requires regular monitoring for possible changes. If one’s condition is triggering symptoms, hormone or radioactive iodine therapy may be administered to reduce the nodule size. Growths that compromise one’s respiration or impair throat function may necessitate a thyroidectomy, which is the surgical excision of the nodule.