A patient might find a thyroid mass by sensing a lump or mass in the neck, or the primary physician might discover an abnormality on physical exam. Your physician will recommend removal of all or part of your thyroid gland (thyroidectomy) if you experience too much hormone release or if he/she suspects the nodules may harbor cancer. There are several types of thyroid cancer including papillary, follicular, medullary, and anaplastic. Some thyroid findings do not require surgery, and your primary care physician can watch and monitor your thyroid.
If the thyroid contains worrisome characteristics, your physician will recommend removal of the side of the gland with the concern (partial thyroidectomy). During surgery, a pathologist physician will check the removed portion of the thyroid gland for cancer. If the pathologist finds the mass to harbor cancer, your surgeon can remove the rest of the thyroid gland during that same operation. If your thyroid nodule proves to contain cancer by needle biopsy prior to surgery, your surgeon will perform a total thyroidectomy. It may also be necessary to remove some of the lymph nodes in the neck if there is evidence of lymph node invasion or if your tumor is large. Patients sometimes need radioactive iodine treatment following thyroidectomy depending on the size and degree of invasion of cancer.