January is Thyroid Awareness Month and most people don't think about their thyroid until something goes wrong. And problems are common, especially in women.
Dr.Mario Skugor, an endocrinologist at Cleveland Clinic, says nodules, or small growths on the gland, are not unusual.
"If you are 50-60 year old woman, you actually have about a 50 percent chance of having a small nodule inside your thyroid. Most of them are not very significant and benign and small and don't do any damage. Some of them are either large enough to make trouble, which is relatively rare, or some of them are malignant and they have to be removed," Skugor explained.
Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck and produces hormones that control important body processes like heart and digestive functions. Most thyroid nodules don't cause symptoms and are often found when a doctor examines your neck.
However, sometimes a nodule will produce a thyroid hormone and cause an overproduction of the hormone leading to slight hyperthyroidism. Small nodules can be watched over time, but if they are larger than 1 centimeter, a biopsy may be done with a fine needle.
Cells from the growth are removed and tested to ensure they are not cancerous. Less than 5 percent of nodules are found to be cancerous, but if it is cancer -- most thyroid cancer is extremely treatable for a couple of reasons.
"They grow very, very slowly that's one reason. The second reason is we actually have very good treatment for it," Skugor said.
Skugor says small nodules should be taken more seriously if you have a known genetic mutation, a first degree relative with thyroid cancer, or have had prior radiation treatments to the head and neck.