There are many different things that can go wrong with the brownish-red gland called the thyroid. The problem I am going to focus on are thyroid cysts.
A butterfly shaped gland, part of the endocrine system, the thyroid gland is known as the “master gland of the body. It is located at the base of the throat below the area of the Adam’s apple. This gland,weighing less than an ounce, produces the hormones that are responsible for many functions such as the metabolic rate of the body, weight control and growth.
What is a thyroid cyst? It is a fluid filled sac that has grown on the gland. Resembling a filled water balloon, the cyst is usually small and does not cause any problems. Normally the cyst does not interfere with the hormone producing function of the thyroid. The cyst may grow very slowly or develop very quickly.
The two types of thyroid cysts are cystic. entirely filled with fluid, and complex, composed of both fluids and solids. Usually harmless, the cysts may persist for years and never cause any health problems. They can shrink away on their own. There are occasions though when problems do arise such as bleeding into the cyst causing it to enlarge. If this happens there may be pain, difficulty breathing and even an increase in your heart beats.
The majority of people that have thyroid cysts do not know until the lump is discovered by a physician during an examination of the neck. This is so because having a cyst on the thyroid does not present symptoms if they are that small. Cysts that larger may not present any health issues but will be more noticeable and can be more easily felt. They can become large enough to press against the windpipe or the vocal chords. On occasion a large cyst may interfere with thyroid hormone production causing the body to become either hyperthyroidism, overproduction, or hypothyroidism, under production of the hormones.
Thyroid cysts are rarely malignant. Their content is usually normal body fluids. The major symptom of a cancerous cyst is that it feels hard and tends to grow large quickly. When such a case arises, the physician may want to do a biopsy procedure called a fine needle aspiration. The procedure for a FNA is the insertion of a very fine needle into the cyst to extract a sample of the contents. Other procedures that may be used to check out the cyst are ultrasound, CT scan or radioactive iodine scan. These tests will give different results to help the physician make the diagnosis and treatment plan.
Most of the time there is no treatment plan need for thyroid cysts especially if they are small. Your physician will want to do follow-ups on a regular basis by taking blood tests to make sure that it is not causing any function problems for the thyroid gland. The size of the growth will also be monitored.
The cyst may be aspirated to drain it and that may be the end of it. If it continues to fill and is “suspicious”, surgery may be the next step.
Having a cyst develop on your thyroid gland does not mean that you have thyroid cancer but it is well worth the time to have it checked out. Having my cyst removed after being aspirated three times lead to the discovery of papillary thyroid cancer in my thyroid gland and several lymph nodes.