Children's Hospital Colorado

Thyroid Nodules

What are thyroid nodules?

Thyroid nodules or masses are abnormal growths on the thyroid gland. The thyroid is a small endocrine gland located in the middle of your neck, just below the voice box. The gland is divided into a right and left side (lobes). It makes hormones that help regulate the body’s metabolism, among other things.

What causes thyroid nodules?

The cause of thyroid nodules may be unknown. Anyone can get a thyroid nodule. Thyroid nodules are very common in older adults and are often benign (not cancer). Children can also have thyroid nodules. The rate of cancer in thyroid nodules among children is higher than adults. However, most pediatric thyroid nodules in children are also benign.

A child’s risk of thyroid nodules is increased if they have a family history of thyroid nodules or thyroid cancer. Previous exposure to radiation therapy used to treat another form of cancer also increases the risk of thyroid nodules.

Helpful resources:

  • The American Thyroid Association provides answers to frequently asked questions about thyroid nodules among children and adolescents.
  • KidsHealth provides helpful information about the causes, signs and symptoms and treatment of nodules.

What are the signs of thyroid nodules?

Thyroid nodules usually do not cause any signs or symptoms. The majority of nodules are found by chance. Parents may feel the lump, or a healthcare provider may find the lump during a physical exam or imaging of the neck done for other health reasons. Large nodules present as swelling in the neck and may involve the right, left or both lobes of the gland.

While uncommon, some patients may have the following:

  • Tenderness
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Speech changes

What tests are used to evaluate thyroid nodules?

Your child’s provider will order blood tests to check your child’s thyroid hormone levels. Imaging tests are also often done to evaluate thyroid nodules. This includes an ultrasound of the neck as well as an MRI or CT scan, in some cases.

In addition, some thyroid nodules require a biopsy using a small needle to check if the nodules are cancerous. This procedure is called fine needle aspiration.

How do providers at Children’s Hospital Colorado make a diagnosis?

Our providers use results from blood tests, imaging tests and needle biopsies to guide the diagnosis of the thyroid nodules in children. The needle biopsy helps to confirm whether your child’s thyroid nodule is benign or cancerous.

How are thyroid nodules treated?

Small, benign thyroid nodules may not need any treatment. We may observe the nodules over time during regular clinical exams, repeat imaging and blood tests. We regularly check the nodules to make sure they have not grown or changed.

Surgery may be needed for large, benign thyroid nodules or benign thyroid nodules that are producing too much thyroid hormone. Cancerous thyroid nodules are also treated with surgery. The surgeon may remove only the nodules or all of the thyroid gland.

Why choose Children’s Hospital Colorado for treatment of your child’s thyroid nodule?

The Pediatric Otolaryngology (ENT) department at Children’s Colorado consists of providers with head and neck surgical expertise and experience for conditions that involve the thyroid gland.

We work closely with our Thyroid Cancer Program in our Department of Endocrinology, which is ranked one of the best in the country. We also collaborate with Radiology Department to accurately diagnose your child’s condition. This ensures that our patient’s care is coordinated, appropriate, timely and child and family-centered. A team of dedicated providers from these different fields is focused on caring for children with thyroid nodules.

Contact us

Call 720-777-8501 to make an appointment.

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