The thyroid gland is located at the base of the neck. It is a small gland that uses iodine from foods to make two hormones that play a major role in metabolism and growth.
Lumps that develop on the thyroid gland are commonly referred to as thyroid nodules. In most cases, they are fairly harmless and without notable symptoms. Malignant lumps account for a very small percentage of thyroid nodules. All the same, it is important to have a lump in the throat region checked by a doctor.
Things you should know about lump on thyroid
Here are some facts you may find helpful to know about thyroid lumps. They may help with diagnosis and choosing how to treat such lumps:
Thyroid nodules are more common in women than men. About 66% of all cases are reported in women.
Age is a risk factor for thyroid lumps. Most women over 70 years of age will develop a thyroid nodule.
Only about 5% of all thyroid nodules are malignant. The rest are largely benign. However, even benign thyroid lumps can cause problems such as difficulty swallowing or breathing.
Thyroid cancer is highly treatable, especially if noted early enough.
A thyroid lump can also be a cyst. Cysts are in most cases harmless. The problem is that they rarely disappear completely without surgical removal.
Causes of lump on thyroid
A goiter is defined as enlargement of the thyroid gland. It is commonly caused by iodine deficiency but can also occur due to thyroid disorders. Types of goiters include:
- Diffuse goiter – a diffuse goiter occurs when thyroid gland is either over-active or under-active. The disorder is commonly caused by Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
- Solitary thyroid nodule – it is very common to have a lump on the thyroid referred to as a single thyroid nodule. It is fairly harmless but can result in production of excess thyroid hormones.
- Multinodular goiter – this condition leads to formation of multiple nodules or lumps on thyroid gland. They are generally harmless but can cause a lump in the throat feeling when swallowing.
- Retrosternal goiter – Retrosternal goiter develops when a thyroid nodule grows behind breastbone. This process occurs over time and can cause difficulty breathing.
A cyst is a pocket or a fluid-filled sac that forms under the skin. Thyroid cysts are usually filled with degenerated glandular tissue and fluid. They are mostly harmless and painless. Large cysts sometimes press against a nerve and cause pain. A good example is a lump on top of the wrist caused by a ganglion cyst. Normally, the cyst will not be painful, until it pushes against a nerve as it enlarges. You can also have a painful lump in the earlobe due to a cyst. But as mentioned earlier, thyroid cysts are usually not painful.
This is a disorder that causes chronic swelling of the thyroid gland. This leads to an under-active thyroid gland.
Adenomas are benign tumors that develop on glandular tissues. On the thyroid gland, adenoma may lead to excess production of thyroid hormones. This can interfere with normal metabolism and growth.
Thyroid cancer is not common. It accounts for only about 5% of all thyroid lumps. Cancerous lumps are commonly characterized by gradual increment in size and mass.
Note that a lump such as a lipoma may seem as if located on thyroid. Lipomas are however located under the skin and not on organ tissues. It is common, for example, to have a lipoma lump on the bicep under skin.
Symptoms of lump on thyroid
Symptoms of thyroid lumps are not always present or noticeable. Large lumps can sometimes be felt or noticed at the base of neck above breastbone. Other symptoms may include:
- Lump in throat feeling
- Increased metabolism
- Increased heartbeat rate
- Losing weight without trying to
- Cancerous lumps are usually hard, fixed and firm
Most thyroid lumps are discovered during medical checkups. This is because they rarely cause aggressive symptoms. The good thing is that most of them are benign and actually require no treatment.
Diagnosis and treatment for lump on throat
- Physical exam – this revolves around checking for signs such as a noticeable lump. Your doctor may also check if there are other lumps on the tonsils or mouth.
- Blood tests – blood tests are performed to check if the thyroid gland is working properly. The test involves checking the levels of thyroid hormones in blood.
- CT scan – if a thyroid nodule is causing difficulty breathing, it could be that it has grown down to behind the breastbone. A CT scan will be used to confirm this.
- Fine needle aspiration cytology (FNAC) – this is a form of biopsy. It involves removing cells from the thyroid for lab test under a microscope. It is a very effective test to confirm presence or absence of malignant cells.
- Ultrasound imaging – this technique relies on sound waves to produce images of the thyroid gland. The images will show the number, position and size of nodules you may be having on the thyroid gland. It also distinguishes cystic lumps from thyroid nodules. Ultrasound imaging is safer than X-rays since use of radiation is avoided.
- Thyroid scan – during a thyroid scan, patients are injected with an isotope of iodine which is radioactive. The movement of the iodine isotope is projected on a computer screen. This test identifies areas of thyroid gland that are either over-active or under-active. It can also check the size, position and shape of thyroid gland or nodules.
Benign tumors rarely call for mandatory removal. If a biopsy test confirms that a lump on thyroid is not malignant, the best alternative is to leave it alone but under close monitoring. Close monitoring means that you will have to keep going for diagnostic tests.
Surgery is the most common treatment option for thyroid lumps. It is usually considered if lumps large enough to cause difficulty swallowing or breathing. Some goiter nodules are known to grown down to behind breastbone, where they can constrict blood vessels. Lumps that keep increasing in size or display suspicious signs are best removed surgically. Almost all thyroid cancer lumps are removed through surgery.
Thyroid hormone therapy
Experts are yet to agree on whether thyroid hormone therapy is effective or not. In simple terms, this therapy aims to reduce production of the hormone that stimulates thyroid gland to produce thyroid hormones. In theory, this will work by decreasing benign enlargement of thyroid gland.
Hyperthyroidism or over-active thyroid gland is sometimes treated with medications. The main problem is that the medications require long-term use, which gradually affects the liver.
When to see a doctor
Medical attention for a lump on the thyroid is usually necessary in the following instances:
The lump is malignant. This means that it will keep increasing in size, spread and invade other body tissues or organs. Note that you don’t have to wait until lumps have formed on other parts of your body. In fact, metastasis of cancer cells should be avoided by all means possible.
The lump is interfering with thyroid functions. It could be that excess thyroid hormones are being produced or vice versa. Since the thyroid gland plays a major role in metabolism regulation, signs of over-activity or under-activity will rarely go without being noticed.
The lump gets big enough to interfere with breathing, swallowing or other body functions such as blood circulation. Since the thyroid gland is located near throat, it is almost a guarantee that a large thyroid lump will be felt, especially when swallowing.
Also, see your doctor if you notice other signs such as a hard lump on the back of the head, in the throat or a painful lump in the armpit. All these are locations of large lymph nodes groupings. When swollen, lymph nodes indicate an infection or a disease.