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What Is a Goiter?

While Most Goiters Are Harmless, the Growth Could Be Cancerous

Finding abnormal growths on your neck can be alarming. You know something’s not right, so you hop online, and a quick search reveals that among a long list of issues, it could be cancer.

If the swelling or growth is around your Adam’s apple, it may be a goiter.

“Any enlargement or abnormal growth of the thyroid gland is considered a goiter,” explains Rajeev Sharma, MD, Assistant Professor of Oncology, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. “A growth in the thyroid can be thyroid cancer. The specific signs of thyroid cancer are rapid growth, firmness or very hard growth, hoarseness of the voice or difficulty swallowing,” says Dr. Sharma. “About 5 to 15 percent of multinodular goiters may have thyroid cancer.”

The most common cause of non-cancerous goiters worldwide is iodine deficiency in the diet. However, with the iodization of salt and other foods in our diet, that isn’t a significant issue in the United States. While most goiters do not require any treatment, you should still have the growth looked at by a physician to rule out cancer.

To determine if a goiter is cancerous, a doctor will likely perform an ultrasound, and if necessary, perform a biopsy of the growth. 

Thyroid cancer tends to occur more often in women than men, and men tend to be older when they are diagnosed with it. For women, the average age of diagnosis is in their 40s or 50s. For men, it’s in their 50s or 60s. If a biopsy determines that a goiter is malignant, the next step will be determining the type and stage of thyroid cancer, which will help the patient’s care team decide on treatment options, likely including removal of the thyroid.

Click here for more information about the warning signs and treatment of thyroid cancer.