What Are Nodules?

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Consult with a physician if you think you may have a nodule.
Consult with a physician if you think you may have a nodule. (Image: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Nodules are lumps that most commonly form in the thyroid gland or lungs. These lumps are often filled with fluid and can cause serious health issues such as trouble breathing or swallowing, and can be a sign of thyroid cancer, lung cancer or hyperthyroidism. However, the majority of nodules are noncancerous and cause few problems. It's always important to seek professional medical attention to determine the state of the nodule.

Identification

Thyroid nodules, or lumps, occur in more than half of the world's population, according to New York Thyroid Center. Only approximately 5 percent of thyroid nodules are cancerous; still, it's important to consult a physician if you have any unusual lumps or swelling. These nodules most often occur in the neck and throat and can be detected by a doctor through a routine neck or throat exam.

Pulmonary nodules, or lung nodules, are less common than thyroid nodules. These small, round lumps, sometimes called "spots," can be found through chest X rays and are found in about one in every 500 chest X rays, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center. Approximately 40 percent of pulmonary nodules are cancerous and early detection is critical to survival rates.

Symptoms

If you feel an unusual lump in the neck or throat area and have symptoms such as shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, sudden weight loss with no explanation, nervousness, a rapid heart beat and trouble sleeping, you may have a health issue with your thyroid gland.

There are very few symptoms of pulmonary nodules. The only symptoms include a chest cold or mild flu. If you are a smoker or have smoked in the past, a chest X ray can help to determine if you have any pulmonary nodules.

Causes

Causes of thyroid nodules include an iodine deficiency, overgrowth of normal thyroid tissue, inflammation of the thyroid, thyroid cysts and radiation exposure.

Causes of pulmonary nodules include smoking and former wounds on the lungs such as tuberculosis or a fungal infection. In addition, pulmonary nodules can form in people who have had or have cancer in other areas of the body.

Treatment

For many thyroid nodules, there is no treatment involved. For thyroid nodules that are noncancerous, but cause difficulty breathing or swallowing or hyperthyroidism, common treatments such as surgery, thyroid medication, a change in diet or radioactive iodine are available. Surgery is almost always necessary for cancerous nodules.

Pulmonary nodules that are noncancerous are usually not treated. Pulmonary nodules that are cancerous are almost always removed by surgery.

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