Nodules (lumps) in the thyroid gland, producing thyroid enlargement (goitre) are common. Around 50% of people aged over 50 years will have nodules in the thyroid if a detailed ultrasound scan is performed. Only in around 1 in 10 to 1 in 20 people will these nodules form a lump that can be seen or felt in the neck.
About 95% of all thyroid nodules are benign (non-cancerous), and only some patients will need surgery to remove part or all of the thyroid gland because of nodules.
The assessment of thyroid nodules should include the following:
- Blood tests to determine if the thyroid gland is producing normal quantities of hormones
- An ultrasound scan of the thyroid, combined with a needle biopsy if warranted.
- A CT scan of the neck and chest in patients with large goitres that may be expanding into the chest
The main reasons that an operation on the thyroid for nodules is recommended are:
- A nodule is compressing structures in the neck, most commonly the windpipe.
- The thyroid gland is expanding into the chest
- The nodule is, or is suspected of being, malignant (cancerous)
- A nodule is producing too much thyroid hormone
- The person wishes the lump to be removed, often for cosmetic reasons
The section on thyroid surgery covers specific details of what an operation on the thyroid involves, what you can expect in terms of length of stay in hospital and recovery afterwards.