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In front of our throat, we have a butterfly-shaped gland known as the thyroid. The thyroid gland is part of the endocrine system and is responsible for the control and regulation of several hormones that affect the body. Every tissue in the body is affected in some way by the hormones secreted by the thyroid gland. Body temperature, metabolism, heart rate and digestion are just some areas affected by the thyroid gland.
When abnormal growths, such as nodules or cancer, occur on the thyroid, surgery is usually an option for treatment. Most nodules are benign but may interfere with hormone production and put pressure on surrounding structure in the neck if they are large.
Some thyroid nodules are cancerous or precancerous. When a nodule is felt on the thyroid or found in an imaging study done of the neck, a biopsy is first taken through a procedure called a fine needle aspiration. If the cells from the biopsy are found to be suspicious or cancerous, then surgery is often the next step. Even if the nodule is determined to be non-cancerous, surgical removal may be recommended if it is large and interferes with the function of the thyroid or surrounding structures.
Although the thyroid is a very important gland of the body, its functions can be mimicked by medication. Those who have their thyroid removed will likely have to be on medication for the rest of their life unless only a portion of their thyroid was taken. Even the majority of those who’ve had partial thyroidectomies, however, will need thyroid medication.
Partial thyroid removal is often recommended for overactive one-sided nodules or large one-sided nodules that are causing compression on surrounding structures. Some symptoms of compression include hoarseness, difficulty breathing and difficulty swallowing (or the sensation of something consistently in one’s throat when swallowing). Those with thyroid cancer, Graves’ disease or enlarged multinodular goiters often have their entire thyroid removed along with surrounding lymph nodes if necessary.