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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:
Depending on where the nodule is located, additional symptoms may be present. Common symptoms of nodules include:
Sometimes, you can have a nodule without any other symptoms.
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 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:
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:
Even if you don’t think your nodule is harmful, it’s best to contact your doctor for an accurate diagnosis.
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.
Written by: April Kahn
Medically reviewed on: Jun 08, 2016: George Krucik, MD
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