The thyroid gland is an endocrine gland whose function is to produce a hormone which essentially controls one's metabolism. It is located in the mid lower neck below the Adam's apple and just above the collar bones. It has a butterfly or bow-tie shape, and in a normal state is usually not something that can be felt.
Abnormalities of the thyroid gland are common in this country and literally affect millions. The most prevalent of thyroid disorders cause a disturbance in the function of the gland, producing either an overactive or under-active thyroid. Either one of these disturbances in function can result in an enlarged thyroid gland sometimes known as a goiter.
Discrete lumps or masses in the thyroid gland may appear and can be either benign or malignant (cancerous). Such lumps may come up slowly or in a very short time. All thyroid lumps should be considered suspicious and be evaluated by an appropriate specialist.
A thyroid mass may be evaluated in several ways, including blood tests, x-rays, scans, or needle biopsies. A fine needle biopsy can be performed easily and relatively painlessly in the office and can provide important diagnostic information with a minimum of difficulty and help to determine the proper treatment for the mass.
Fortunately the great majority of thyroid lumps are benign and may be treated with simple medication or simply observed over a period of time. Persistence of a mass in the face of adequate medication, or enlargement of such a lump might very well prompt the recommendation for removal of the mass.
When thyroid surgery is necessary, it is performed under general anesthesia (with the patient asleep) and usually involves removing at least half of the thyroid gland. If the other half of the thyroid gland is normal, it will be adequate to perform the functions necessary of the gland, including the production of an adequate amount of hormone. However, in some cases, total removal of the gland may be necessary and the patient would then be obliged to take thyroid hormone for the rest of his or her life.