What Does it Mean if You Have a Lump On Your Thyroid?

Thyroid lumps are very common and rarely a cause for concern. Your first instinct may be to worry if you’ve spotted a lump on your thyroid, but the large majority of thyroid lumps—often referred to as thyroid nodules—are benign (non-cancerous) and never cause disruptive symptoms. Having your lump evaluated by a medical professional is the only way to determine its cause and if it requires treatment.

Types of Thyroid Lumps

The thyroid is an important gland located at the base of the neck, just above the collarbone. A part of the endocrine system, the thyroid produces hormones that help keep the body in balance and regulate key structures, such as digestion and heart function. A lump can form on the thyroid for various reasons—although most are unclear—and may be categorized as:

  • A thyroid cyst. A cyst is a benign growth that may be fluid-filled or have a mix of solid tissue and fluid.
  • A colloid nodule. This lump is a benign overgrowth of normal thyroid tissue.
  • A multinodular goiter. Usually benign, a multinodular goiter describes an enlarged thyroid that has several small nodules.
  • An inflammatory nodule. This lump often results from long-term thyroid inflammation (swelling) and may become painful. It is often associated with Hashimoto’s disease and hypothyroidism.
  • A hyperfunctioning thyroid nodule. This lump actively produces thyroid hormones, which may result in hyperthyroidism and a wide array of potentially serious health concerns.
  • Thyroid cancer. Less than 5 percent of thyroid lumps are cancerous, and most cases of thyroid cancer have a positive prognosis.

Thyroid Lump Risk Factors

Physicians aren’t sure why many thyroid lumps occur, but several risk factors have been identified. Factors that may increase the likelihood of developing a thyroid lump include:

  • Female gender
  • A family history of thyroid nodules
  • Older age (although thyroid lumps are also common in younger women)
  • Past radiation therapy or radiation exposure around the head or neck
  • Iodine deficiency (a rare problem in the United States)

When to See a Doctor

Be sure to promptly speak with a physician if you see or feel a lump on your thyroid, particularly if it grows rapidly or is accompanied by any unexplained symptoms. Most physicians will order a thyroid ultrasound or biopsy to confirm what type of nodule is present and whether or not it necessitates treatment. For many patients with asymptomatic thyroid nodules, a “watchful waiting” approach is recommended.

Tufts Medical Center Community Care provides seamlessly coordinated diagnostics and treatment to patients with all types of thyroid nodules. A multispecialty medical group made up of more than 120 practitioners, our practice includes primary care physicians, endocrinologists and other specialists who work as a team to ensure the best possible care for our patients.

Contact our friendly professionals at Tufts Medical Center Community Care today if you would like to have a thyroid lump evaluated by a primary care physician or endocrinologist. With multiple convenient locations and ample appointment availability, we make it simple to receive world-class care close to home.

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