The Endocrine Surgery Program at UW Health in Madison, Wisconsin, provides nationally recognized care and innovative services to our patients. Learn about our approach to thyroid conditions and their treatments through the frequently asked questions below.
Also, watch our videos for a series of common questions about thyroid conditions, answered by our expert endocrine surgeons.
The Thyroid Gland and Thyroid Nodules
What is a thyroid gland? What does it do?
A. The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped organ located in the base of your neck. It releases hormones that control metabolism - the way your body uses energy.
What is a follicular neoplasm?
A. A follicular neoplasm is diagnosed after a biopsy of your thyroid gland, which looks for both cells and fluid. If the result is too many cells, you may have a neoplasm, which is an overgrowth of thyroid cells.
What is FLUS?
A. A follicular lesion of undetermined significance (FLUS) means that your biopsy results were not completely clear and it cannot be determined if it was cancerous or benign.
What is a Hurthle cell neoplasm?
A. Hurthle cell cancer is a rare cancer that affects the thyroid gland.
How do you regulate thyroid hormone?
A. Regulating thyroid hormones can be difficult. Your doctor will use blood tests and monitor how you are feeling and your symptoms, including your energy level.
Do I need to take name brand thyroid hormones?
A. Patients should talk to their doctor about which drug is right for them.
What is a thyroid nodule?
A. A thyroid nodule is an abnormal growth of thyroid cells that forms a lump within the thyroid gland.
How do you evaluate a thyroid nodule?
A. When a nodule is discovered, your physician will determine whether the rest of your thyroid is healthy or if the entire gland has been affected. Since it's usually not possible to determine whether a thyroid nodule is cancerous by physical examination and blood tests alone, the evaluation of the thyroid nodules often includes specialized tests, such as thyroid ultrasonography and fine needle biopsy.
My biopsy is suspicious for papillary thyroid cancer. What does that mean?
A. This means your biopsy came back showing suspicious cells but did not identify papillary thyroid cancer. Your doctor will often recommend removing the nodule.
What is papillary thyroid cancer?
A. Papillary thyroid cancer is the most common type of thyroid cancer.
What are the causes of thyroid cancer?
A. It is not clear what causes thyroid cancer - but like other cancers, changes in the DNA of your cells seem to play a role. These DNA changes may include genetics or radiation exposure.
Does thyroid cancer run in families?
A. Family history only accounts for about five percent of all thyroid cancers.
What are the symptoms of thyroid cancer?
A. Thyroid cancer often has no symptoms, or you might notice a lump in the neck. When a thyroid cancer grows, it can cause difficulty swallowing or a feeling like you have a lump in your throat.
What are the treatments thyroid cancer?
A. Treatment for thyroid cancer varies - from removing a portion of your thyroid to removal of the entire thyroid. Once the cancer is removed and biopsied, we determine what further treatment is necessary. Radioactive iodine may be the next step if you are at an intermediate or high risk. There is no typical chemotherapy protocol, and it is rare that you would undergo external radiation, except for in very rare thyroid cancers.
How is medullary thyroid cancer treated?
A. Total thyroidectomy is the main treatment for medullary thyroid cancer and often cures the patient. Nearby lymph nodes are usually removed, as well. Because the thyroid gland is removed, thyroid hormone therapy is needed after surgery.
What is the follow-up for thyroid cancer?
A. If you have completed all of your treatment, life-long follow-up is strongly encouraged. An ultrasound may occur six months after surgery and then annually after that, along with blood tests.
What is the risk of recurrence for thyroid cancer?
A. Recurrence of thyroid cancer is fairly common and depends on your case. Watch closely the signs of recurrence and follow-up annually with your physician.
What is the prognosis for thyroid cancer?
A. Most thyroid cancers are very curable, and if treated correctly, the cure rate is extremely high.
Should I have molecular testing of my thyroid nodule?
A. Molecular testing can assist in helping determine whether indeterminate nodules are suspicious for malignancy or are benign.
Other Thyroid Conditions
What is Hashimoto's thyroiditis?
A. Hashimoto's thyroiditis is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system turns against the body's own tissues and attacks the thyroid gland. This can lead to hypothyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid does not make enough hormones for the body's needs.
What are the benefits of thyroid surgery for Hashimoto's thyroiditis?
A. Patients diagnosed with Hashimoto's disease who underwent a complete thyroidectomy saw improvement in symptoms, most notably a reduction in severe fatigue.
What causes hyperthyroidism?
A. Hyperthyroidism is a condition where your thyroid overproduces hormones. Grave’s disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism.
What is Graves' disease?
A. Graves' disease is an autoimmune disease that causes your thyroid gland to create too much thyroid hormone. Thyroid hormones affect your nervous system, brain development and body temperature.
What are the treatments for Graves' disease?
A. Treatment of Graves' disease may include surgery, radioactive iodine (RAI therapy) or anti-thyroid medications.
Should I consider thyroidectomy for Graves' disease?
A. Anti-thyroid medication is the first line treatment to help control hyperthyroidism. If your disease does not go into spontaneous remission or go away, your doctor will consider more definitive treatment options, including surgery.
What is a goiter?
A. A goiter refers to an enlargement of the thyroid that is not associated with overproduction of the thyroid hormone or cancer. The thyroid becomes so large that it is easily seen as a mess in the neck.
What are some of the risks of having a goiter?
A. Goiters can affect anyone at any time throughout your life. While there are often no signs or symptoms, you may experience swelling, difficulty breathing, hoarseness, swallowing problems, snoring or difficulty sleeping at night.
Why should I consider surgery for my goiter?
A. A goiter is an enlargement of the thyroid gland. If it is causing symptoms such as compression of the trachea, difficulty swallowing or a visible or unsightly mass, your physician may consider removal.