A nodule is a growth of abnormal tissue. Nodules can develop just below the skin. They can also develop in deeper skin tissues or internal organs. The thyroid gland and lymph nodes may develop nodules as well. People can mistake other conditions for nodules, such as small cysts, boils, and abscesses.
Common areas for nodules to form include the:
- head and neck region, including the vocal cords and thyroid gland
Depending on where the nodule is located, additional symptoms may be present. Common symptoms of nodules include:
- pain in the area of the nodule
- a hard and visible lump in the skin
- abdominal discomfort if the nodule is in the abdomen
- changes in your voice if the nodule is on the vocal cord
Sometimes, you can have a nodule without any other symptoms.
Lymph node nodules
Lymph nodes are a common location for nodules to form. Lymph nodes are small, oval-shaped organs located throughout the body. They play an important role in your body’s immune system. Lymph nodes that swell are often in the armpits, groin, or head and neck region.
Vocal cord nodules
Vocal cord nodules are benign. Overuse or misuse of the voice often causes them. Stomach acid irritating your voice box is another possible cause.
Lung nodules typically range from 0.5 to 3 cm in size, but they can be larger. These nodules usually occur due to inflammation in the lung. Disease or infection can cause the inflammation. Noncancerous nodules usually don’t require treatment. Nodules over 3 cm in size are more likely to be cancerous. Your doctor will come up with a plan with you to monitor these nodules and determine when a biopsy is necessary.
Thyroid nodules have a variety of causes. The following are common types of thyroid nodules:
- Colloid nodules develop from a lack of iodine, which is a mineral essential to the production of thyroid hormones. These growths are noncancerous, but they may be large.
- Thyroid cysts are either filled with fluid, or a mixture of fluid and solid tissue.
- Hyperfunctioning thyroid nodules produce thyroid hormone, which may cause hyperthyroidism.
- Multinodular goiter occurs when the thyroid gland forms multiple nodules, which grow over time. It can occur due to a lack of iodine in your diet, but most people with goiters have a thyroid gland that functions normally.
- Thyroid cancer is another cause of thyroid nodules, but most thyroid nodules aren’t cancerous. According to Cleveland Clinic, less than 5 percent of thyroid nodules are cancerous.
The most common causes of nodules are:
Certain types of nodules develop on scar tissue. For example, keloids are nodules that form when there’s an overgrowth of scar tissue over an injury. According to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, 10 percent of people get keloids.
Nodules can also develop in internal tissues. For example, a granuloma is a small clump of cells that forms when tissue is inflamed. Inflammation often occurs due to an infection or an autoimmune reaction, which occurs when your body overreacts to its own tissues. Granulomas commonly form in the lungs, but they can develop in other places as well.
Your thyroid gland is at the base of your neck, just above your collarbone. The thyroid gland produces hormones that regulate your metabolism and growth. Hyperthyroidism is a condition in which your thyroid produces too much thyroid hormone. Sometimes, nodules form that produce excess thyroid hormone, leading to hyperthyroidism.
Iodine is a mineral necessary for the production of thyroid hormones. When your body doesn’t get enough iodine, thyroid nodules may develop. This can also lead to decreased functioning of the thyroid gland.
Most nodules are benign. However, nodules can be cancerous. If a nodule grows rapidly or persists for a long time, you should seek a medical evaluation.
You should seek immediate medical attention if you experience symptoms such as:
- difficulty swallowing
- difficulty breathing
- vision problems
- a pounding heart
- an intolerance to heat
- muscle weakness
- neck pain
- sudden, unexplained weight loss
- difficulty sleeping
Even if you don’t think your nodule is harmful, it’s best to contact your doctor for an accurate diagnosis.
What to expect during your appointment
Before treatment, your doctor will perform several tests to determine what caused your nodule to appear. These tests may include taking a blood sample or a biopsy of the nodule. For nodules that form internally, your doctor may perform an ultrasound, or an imaging test.
If the nodule is noncancerous, your doctor may choose to monitor the nodule without providing treatment. Nodules frequently change and may go away on their own. If the overproduction of a hormone, such as the thyroid hormone, is causing a nodule to form, your doctor may give you prescription medications to suppress the hormone, causing the nodule to shrink.
In some cases, surgery is necessary to remove nodules. If a nodule is cancerous, your doctor may suggest surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or all three treatment options to treat the nodule.
The outlook for a person with nodules depends on their cause. Many nodules will go away with treatment. In cases of cancer, early diagnosis is key to effective treatment. If you do find a nodule, see your doctor. Keep track of any other symptoms you’ve experienced, changes in size to the nodule, or any pain associated with the nodule. Share this information with your doctor.