Thyroid nodules don't usually produce symptoms when they are tiny, but larger ones might be notable. Since the thyroid sits close to the skin's surface larger lumps can be detected with the touch of the hand or naked eye. Nodules are mostly a benign fluid-filled cyst, pool of thyroid hormone, or harmless gathering of cells. This type of nodule (or a goiter, a condition that causes whole gland to enlarge), it is not likely to be cancer.
Only 1 in 20 nodules are cancerous.
Spotting Thyroid Cancer
If your doctor still performs a physical exam, one area he or she will exam is the neck. You can ask for this simple exam specifically. Nodules can also be found by accident, during imaging study performed for another reason.
Although thyroid cancer doesn’t usually produce symptoms, larger masses can cause the following:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Sore throat or a pain in the neck
- Voice changes or hoarseness
- Persistent cough
- Trouble breathing
The risk of a nodule being cancerous is that same no matter how the nodule is found. Thankfully, most cancers are detected at an early curable stage; and 90% are disease free after treatment.
The Thyroid Self-Exam
One easy way to get a hold on thyroid health is to get to know your thyroid better by performing periodic thyroid self-exams. Like a breast self-exam, doing this evaluation routinely lets you become more familiar with the terrain. If you find a lump, even if it is the size of a tiny pebble, have it checked by a doctor.
Here's how to do it:
- Stand in front of a mirror keeping your eye on the area just below the Adam's apple and right above the collarbone.
- Drink some water and tilt your head back slightly, just enough to keep your eye focused on the thyroid area while you swallow
- Look and feel for any bulges and bumps
- Repeat a few times
- Report any findings to your doctor