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Thyroid Nodules - Treatment Overview

Your treatment will depend on how your thyroid nodule affects you. If your thyroid nodule is not cancerous (benign) and is not causing any problems, your doctor will watch the nodule closely before doing anything else. If your thyroid nodule is causing problems, you may need to take medicine or have surgery.

Antithyroid medicine and radioactive iodine can treat benign nodules that are causing your thyroid gland to make too many hormones (hyperthyroidism). For more information on hyperthyroidism, see the topic Hyperthyroidism.

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Surgery is usually only necessary if your thyroid nodule is so large that it causes problems with breathing or swallowing or if your nodule is cancerous. After a cancerous nodule is surgically removed, you may need radioactive iodine to destroy any thyroid tissue or cancer cells that are still causing problems. If you need to have your entire thyroid gland removed, you will need to take thyroid hormone medicine for the rest of your life.

For information about thyroid cancer and its treatment, see the topic Thyroid Cancer.

Initial treatment

When you know you have a thyroid nodule, your treatment options include:

  • Observation. If your thyroid nodule is not cancerous, your doctor may choose to check it every 6 to 12 months for changes in size. Many noncancerous thyroid nodules stay the same size or shrink without treatment.
  • Surgery (thyroidectomy). Not all thyroid nodules need surgery. You will need to have surgery to remove part or all of your thyroid gland if:
    • Your nodule is cancerous or suspected to be cancerous.
    • Your nodule is so big that it makes it hard for you to breathe or swallow.
  • Radioactive iodineRadioactive iodine. Radioactive iodine may be used to destroy thyroid tissue if:
    • Your nodule is noncancerous but is making too much thyroid hormone, causing hyperthyroidism. If you have hyperthyroidism because of your nodule and you are pregnant, it is not a good idea to have radioactive iodine treatment. Your doctor may recommend surgery instead of radioactive iodine.
    • You have several nodules (multinodular goiter) and surgery is not a good idea because of other health problems you have. Radioactive iodine can shrink nodules that cause problems with breathing or swallowing, but your nodules may come back after treatment.

Ongoing treatment

If part or all of your thyroid gland needs to be surgically removed because of cancer, radioactive iodine may be used to destroy any thyroid tissue or cancer cells that remain after surgery.

If you have a thyroid nodule:

  • Take any thyroid hormone medicine your doctor prescribes at the same time each day and do not miss a dose.
  • Follow your doctor's advice for getting your blood checked for thyroid hormone levels.
  • Call your doctor if you have symptoms of hyperthyroidism, such as feeling nervous, having a fast heartbeat, sweating more than usual, and losing weight. Sometimes, hyperthyroidism develops from taking thyroid hormone medicine or when a noncancerous nodule starts making too much thyroid hormone.
  • Call your doctor if you have symptoms of hypothyroidism, such as feeling tired, feeling cold when others do not, and gaining weight. Hypothyroidism can develop after you are treated with radioactive iodine or you have surgery.
  • Schedule regular checkups with your doctor. Even noncancerous nodules need to be looked at by your doctor on a regular basis.
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