Thyroid nodules in children are abnormal lumps that appear within the thyroid gland. In most cases, these thyroid nodules are found to be benign in nature. The following article will cover more information related to the causes, symptoms and treatment of thyroid nodules in children.
The butterfly shaped gland located in the front side of the throat, above the collarbone, is the thyroid gland. This gland is very important as it secrets hormones that help children grow and develop physically as well as mentally. Thyroid nodules in children refer to the firm lump that develops in the thyroid gland. These nodules may be cancerous, and in most cases are found to be benign (non-cancerous). Thyroid nodules are very rarely observed in children and adolescents.
There are different types of thyroid nodules that may occur in children. These types are as follows:
- Colloid nodule: One or more benign nodules formed by accumulation of thyroid cells in the thyroid gland
- Follicular adenoma: This is also a benign thyroid nodule that appears as a solitary nodule and is usually painless
- Thyroid cysts: These are mostly benign nodules that are form small fluid filled sacs in the thyroid gland.
- Inflammatory nodules: Nodules that cause chronic inflammation within the thyroid gland
- Thyroid cancer: Cancerous nodules that are very hard in nature
These nodules may affect the production of thyroid hormones. This causes the child to suffer from under secretion of thyroid hormones (hypothyroidism), or overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism).
Thyroid nodule is a common endocrine problem affecting people in the United States. However, less than 10% of the thyroid nodules are caused due to thyroid cancer. Most of the cases, these nodules are found to be non cancerous in nature. The exact cause of thyroid nodules is not known. In some cases it is found to be genetic in nature, some nodules form due to lack of iodine in the diet and some develop after radiation exposure.
Thyroid nodules in children do not cause any symptoms initially. The symptoms develop only after the nodule grows large enough, and affects the tissues within the gland. Many times the lump gets so large that one can observe it on the neck. Some of the thyroid nodule symptoms, depending on the type and cause, are as follows:
- Changes in voice, like hoarseness
- Pain in the neck
- Difficulty to swallow
- Unexplained weight loss
- A palpable or clearly visible swelling on the neck
- Irregular pulse
- Increased anxiety
- Cold intolerance
- Dry skin
- Weight gain
- Swelling on the face (facial edema)
Most cases of thyroid nodules are detected during a routine health check up. If the doctor suspects the presence of these nodules, he will conduct a blood test to see the functioning of the thyroid gland. Apart from this, a thyroid scan will be help to check the absorption of iodine by the gland. This helps the doctor to identify if the lump is benign or cancerous. A fine needle biopsy will also be conducted to understand the type of the nodule present in the gland.
Any type of nodule, whether cancerous or suspected to contain cancerous cells, has to be treated. Most of these nodules are completely curable and do not cause any major complications. A surgery is performed to remove the nodule. The surgery involves lobectomy or total thyroidectomy. In case of lobectomy, only a section of the gland, that contains the nodule is removed. The entire thyroid gland is removed in case of thyroidectomy. The recovery period for either of the surgery is about an hour. The child will be given medication through an intravenous line, initially, after the operation. Once the child can eat and drink, the line will be removed. The child is discharged from the hospital within 24 to 48 hours after surgery.
The child will have to visit a doctor for follow-ups, regularly, for about 3 to 4 weeks after the surgery. The child may be referred to an endocrinologist, in case there is a requirement for hormone therapy. Any kind of lump or swelling on the child’s neck should be examined by a doctor. Thyroid nodules in children are mostly benign in nature, but one cannot take a chance as it can turn out to be a cancerous lump.