Thyroid nodules affect people of all ages, whether they suffer from an underlying thyroid disease or not. Some people may experience no symptoms, while others suffer increasing problems over time.
Endocrinologists, doctors who specialize in treating thyroid and hormone disorders, help patients manage thyroid nodules through routine monitoring and treatment. They assess patients’ health and offer innovative treatments, such as radiofrequency ablation for benign thyroid nodules.
What are Thyroid Nodules?
Thyroid nodules are growths that form within the thyroid gland, located in the front base of your beck. The nodules can be solid or fluid-filled and feel like lumps. Often a patient does not realize they have a thyroid nodule until a doctor detects one during a routine physical exam of their neck. Other times nodules are found during scans or exams for other health conditions.
The exact cause of thyroid nodules is unknown, though some forms of hypothyroidism are associated with an increased risk of nodule development. While some thyroid nodules are cancerous, most are benign. Thyroid nodules can cause symptoms as they grow and may become more visible and painful over time.
Treatment guidelines for benign thyroid nodules depend on the severity of symptoms the patient is experiencing.
The Treatment of Benign Thyroid Nodules
Not all benign thyroid nodules require treatment. Doctors may suggest monitoring thyroid nodules instead of treating patients with small benign nodules that aren’t causing adverse effects. For patients with one or more larger nodules causing symptoms, treatment is required.
Thyroid nodule symptoms that require treatment include:
- A large nodule that interferes with the patient’s ability to eat, drink, or breathe normally
- Increased pain in the patient’s neck, ears, or jaw
- Feeling a constant tickle in their throat
- Difficulty talking or having a hoarse voice due to a nodule pressing against vocal cords
- Toxic nodules that produce excess levels of thyroid hormones
Treatment Options for Benign Nodules
Clinical practice guidelines include recommendations for how thyroid nodules are treated. Doctors may first perform a thyroid ultrasound and run blood tests to identify suspicious nodules and other problems. Patients may need to undergo a fine needle aspiration biopsy of their thyroid to confirm their nodules are benign.
Patients with benign thyroid nodules have more options available. They can choose to have their nodules removed surgically or undergo a less invasive radiofrequency ablation procedure. The patient’s symptoms and personal preferences may influence which treatment is chosen.
The Role of Radiofrequency Ablation for Benign Thyroid Nodules
Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) uses heat generated by radio waves and electrical currents to treat thyroid nodules. A doctor or medical technician uses ultrasound guidance to place a thin, hollow needle through the neck and into the patient’s thyroid nodules. Once the needle is placed, the doctor inserts a wire connected to the electricity generator.
A range of waves travels into the thyroid nodule through the wire and its electrode tip, causing only the nodule cells to heat and die. The doctor may move the needle back and forth to ensure all nodule cells are ablated. Surrounding healthy tissues in the thyroid and neck are not affected.
Patients may feel some minor tingling or discomfort during the procedure, but RFA is not painful. Before the procedure, a doctor administers a local anesthetic to numb the neck prior to needle insertion and may offer medications to help patients relax.
Once cells in the thyroid nodule die, the nodule can’t produce excess thyroid hormones, and it gradually shrinks over time.
This outpatient procedure can be done in a doctor’s office and doesn’t require fasting beforehand, going under general anesthesia, or a lengthy recovery period. No incisions are made into the skin or muscles of the neck, just the insertion of a needle.
RFA has a low risk of adverse effects, such as infection. It’s a safer, less invasive option than surgery to treat benign thyroid nodules. Patients who are not good candidates for surgical thyroid nodule removal may still be able to receive RFA treatment instead.
The Effectiveness of RFA for Benign Nodules
Thyroid RFA is an effective treatment, with patients typically seeing 50 to 93.5% shrinkage of their benign nodules. The majority of size reduction occurs within the first month after the RFA is completed. The nodule continues to shrink in size over the following months.
As the nodules shrink, physical and cosmetic symptoms decline. Although the procedure is completed in one visit, more visits over time will be needed so the doctor can check their patient’s progress.
A doctor uses an ultrasound during these check-ups to monitor the nodule’s reduction and note any symptoms the patient still has. There is a very low chance a nodule can grow after RFA, and checkups will catch if this happens.
Thyroid RFA Treatments Through Associate Endocrinologists
Patients interested in RFA treatment for their benign thyroid nodules should contact Associated Endocrinologists. Our board certified endocrinologists are the first in Michigan to offer thyroid patients this minimally invasive treatment.
We will be happy to assess your condition and determine if thyroid RFA is your best treatment option. Call us today to schedule a consultation.