Having a nodule in your thyroid is common. Fortunately thyroid cancer is not. By the time you reach the age of fifty you have a 50% chance of having a nodule larger than a half an inch in diameter. Cancerous nodules tend to be firmer and often are rock hard to the touch. Thus your doctor has a good chance of identifying such a nodule if he/she examines your thyroid. So if your doctor does not examine the front of your neck, ask that such a thyroid exam be done.
There's even a chance that you could find such a nodule yourself.
The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists urges you to "stick your neck out." By standing in front of a mirror and raising your chin slightly watch the front of your neck as you swallow. Look for something that moves. Most thyroids are nearly invisible unless there is a lump or an enlargement of the gland. You can also swallow while holding your fingertips in front of the thyroid area which may help you identify an abnormality.
Your chances of having a nodule, benign or malignant, increase if you had childhood neck irradiation for a condition like acne, tonsillitis, or an enlarged thymus gland. Your risk is also increased if you have had radiation to the head and neck area for a condition like Hodgkin's disease or breast cancer.
As we will describe in related articles, you will learn that doctors can usually tell by biopsy and other tests whether a nodule is malignant and needs to be removed.
But always make sure that if you have a nodule, it's checked every time you have a medical examination. If you change doctors, be sure the information about your nodule is passed on to your new physician.