Thyroid Awareness Month
January 24, 2017 | by Kathleen O. Stickney MD

Roughly half of all people by age 60 will have a thyroid nodule detected through a physical exam or imaging, according to the American Thyroid Association. Most of these nodules are benign but what are they?

What is a thyroid nodule?

The thyroid gland is part of your endocrine system and produces hormones that control many body processes including metabolism, temperature, growth, and other body functions. The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of your neck, under your Adam’s apple or larynx. Sometimes, thyroid cells collect and form a lump within the gland called nodules. These thyroid nodules can be small and unnoticeable but can be large enough to be seen and felt. Some people have multiple nodules, referred to as a goiter.

How is thyroid disease detected?

Checking for thyroid disease involves an evaluation of the thyroid by an experienced doctor to ensure the best pathway of care. Your primary care doctor (PCP) or endocrinologist will first schedule an ultrasound to diagnose thyroid nodules and their location. If nodules are present, your PCP will refer you to an endocrinologist who specializes in thyroid conditions to perform a short, procedure called a fine needle aspiration to remove a small number of cells from the nodule and send to the lab to test for cancer. The endocrinologist will also test your blood to check thyroid hormone levels and the presence of any thyroid disease.

What causes thyroid nodules?

It’s still not clear what causes nodules but thyroid disease may be a contributing factor. Your doctor will check to see if your thyroid hormone production is too high (hyperthyroidism) or too low (hypothyroidism).

How are thyroid nodules treated?

You may be prescribed medication or other treatment to manage these conditions. If surgery is needed to remove a benign or a cancerous nodule, there are new minimally invasive techniques available that are often quicker, result in less pain and less recovery time. Your doctor and surgeon will discuss your options with you.

Thyroid Care at The Polyclinic

The Polyclinic has one of the largest, most experienced teams of board-certified endocrinologists in Washington State. We work together, providing a coordinated team approach across primary care, sub- specialty endocrinology, and if needed surgical treatment to give patients a quick and thorough diagnosis and treatment plan. If surgery is deemed necessary, you may be asked to see Kathleen Stickney, MD, a Polyclinic board certified otolaryngologist who has more than 20 years of experience specializing in thyroid and parathyroid surgery. Call 206-860-5572 for more information or to make an appointment.

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