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The Truth About Thyroid Growths: Origins, Symptoms, and Outcomes
In this day and age, cancer awareness is at an all-time high. More than ever before, men and women alike are increasingly vigilant about the necessity of checking their bodies for any unusual lumps, polyps, or growths. However, amidst all of the focus on more common forms of cancer and other growth-producing diseases, some lesser-known health risks can tend to get lost in the shuffle.
One example of this phenomenon is the public’s general lack of awareness of thyroid growths. In some cases, these growths can be indicative of serious health problems, while in other cases, they are simply harmless annoyances. This week, we’ll talk about the different types of thyroid growths and the underlying illnesses that their presence can sometimes indicate.
What Are Thyroid Growths?
On the most basic level, thyroid growths are unusual tissue masses that appear on the thyroid gland. In most cases, they often cannot be detected with the naked eye. Some people with thyroid growths may experience a feeling that is akin to having a “lump” in the throat. In severe cases, these growths may interfere with speaking, swallowing, or breathing.
In the vast majority of cases, thyroid growths are simply normal thyroid tissue that has grown too much, or has expanded into an unusual shape. Only about five percent of all thyroid growths are caused by cancer-related cell activity.
Depending on the cause of the thyroid growth, these growths can take one of several different forms:
- Colloid nodules. These benign growths are responsible for most cases of thyroid nodules. Colloid nodules occur when the thyroid, for reasons that are often unknown, begins to generate extra tissue that is non-cancerous. These growths are often undetectable without the use of advanced imaging techniques.
- Follicular adenomas. Another benign type of thyroid nodule, follicular adenomas are growths ranging from one to ten centimeters in size that are filled with colloid tissue and epithelial cells. They are usually detected by physicians in routine medical examines, although they can also be viewed on x-rays or using other imaging techniques.
- Inflammatory nodules. These benign nodules are commonly seen in patients who suffer from chronic inflammation of the thyroid gland. Most inflammatory nodules do not cause noticeable symptoms, although one rare form of these nodules can result in extreme neck and throat pain. Patients with a history of thyroiditis and postpartum women are at greatest risk for developing inflammatory nodules.
- Hyperfunctioning Thyroid Nodules. These growths occur when a thyroid nodule begins producing thyroid hormones of its own, acting as if it were a mini-thyroid gland. As a result, patients with these types of growths often experience a form of hyperthyroidism, because they have elevated levels of thyroxine in the bloodstream. Although the cause of these nodules remains unclear, researchers believe that genetic factors may play a role in their development. In other cases, they may be a sign of a condition known as Plummer’s disease.
- Thyroid cysts. These growths occur when areas of fluid develop within the thyroid gland, forming small, blister-like growths ranging from one-quarter inch to over an inch in diameter. In most cases, the origins of the cysts are unclear, and tests indicate that the cysts are harmless. However, a rare type of thyroid cyst that contains both fluid and solid tissue is often cancerous. Symptoms can include throat and neck pain and changes in the patient’s speaking or singing voice.
- Multinodular goiters. Strictly speaking, goiters are not growths on the thyroid, but rather, an abnormal enlargement of the entire thyroid gland. However, in the early stages of goiter growth, patients often experience a lump-like sensation in their throat or neck. This is particularly common with multinodular goiters, which are often caused by the presence of multiple benign nodules on the thyroid gland. Patients who detect a neck lump or experience difficulty breathing or swallowing should be evaluated for this condition.
- Thyroid cancer. As mentioned previously, more than 95% of all thyroid growths are benign. However, in some rare cases, the presence of a thyroid lump or growth may be a sign of thyroid cancer. You are at greater risk for developing the disease if you have a family history of thyroid or endocrine system disorders. Adolescents and young adults under the age of 20 and individuals over the age of 60 are at higher risk for thyroid cancer, and although women develop most types of thyroid disorders more frequently than men, men are at greater risk of developing cancer of the thyroid than women. If you notice a neck or throat lump that is hard and painful, it is particularly important to seek immediate medical attention.
Visit the Thyroid Cancer Clinic for more information about Thyroid Cancer.
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