A thyroid lesion or nodule occurs when tissue in and around the thyroid grows abnormally. Thyroid lesions appear as small lumps in the neck and can sometimes be seen upon physical examination. These cysts are typically filled with fluid. Sometimes the nodules will have only fluid in them, while other times the fluid will be mixed with cells from the thyroid.
Many thyroid lesions go unnoticed by the person who has them. This is because the lesions often come with no symptoms and can be located deep inside of the thyroid. If a lesion becomes too big, though, it may affect the area around it in the neck and throat, causing a person to become short of breath or have a hard time swallowing food. The lesion also can produce more hormones than it is supposed to produce, leaving a person to experience episodes of fatigue, rapid weight loss and other symptoms.
Only a small percentage of these lesions are cancerous. A biopsy is usually done after a doctor does a physical exam and takes a history. The biopsy will allow the doctor to see if the cells in the lesion are cancerous. An ultrasound often is used to help the doctor guide the needle used in the biopsy into the correct position. This allows the doctor to see where the cells are so he can extract more than just cystic fluid from the thyroid nodule.
If the patient has cancer of the thyroid, surgery will most likely be needed. The size of the lesion also could lead a patient's doctor to recommend surgery to remove the lump, even if it is not cancerous. Other tests, such as blood tests to determine the hormone levels in the thyroid, may be needed to determine how the severity of the lesion.
Doctors also may use differential diagnosis to help determine if a lesion is present. When a doctor does this, he is eliminating different types of ailments, one at a time, so he can be sure of his diagnosis. In diagnosing a thyroid lesion, a doctor might eliminate the possibility of the patient having an adenoma, nodular hyperplasia, thyroiditis, a carcinoma, or lymphoma. Each of these illnesses may exhibit the same symptoms as that of a thyroid lesion. By taking the time to individually rule out each of these conditions, the doctor can better diagnose and treat the patient.