Who is affected by thyroid nodules

Thyroid nodules are common. In the United States, nodules are found during physical examination in 4% to 7% of the adult population. However, ultrasound examinations suggest that more than 50% of the adult population may have them.1, 2

The majority of nodules are noncancerous, or benign. Only about 5% of diagnosed (felt during examination) nodules in adults are cancerous.1, 3

Exposure to environmental radiation or past radiation treatment to the head, neck, and chest (especially during childhood) increases your risk for thyroid nodules.

Thyroid nodules are less common in children than adults. Although some studies have shown cancerous nodules are more common in children, other studies have found the risk is similar in children and adults. 4


  1. Welker MJ, Orlov D (2003). Thyroid nodules. American Family Physician, 67(3): 559–566.
  2. Schlumberger MJ, et al. (2008). Nontoxic diffuse and nodular goiter and thyroid neoplasia. In HM Kronenberg et al., eds., Williams Textbook of Endocrinology, 11th ed., pp. 411–442. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
  3. Hegedüs L (2004). The thyroid nodule. New England Journal of Medicine, 351(17): 1764–1771.
  4. American Thyroid Association Guidelines Taskforce (2006). Management guidelines for patients with thyroid nodules and differentiated thyroid cancer. Thyroid, 16(2): 1–33. Also available online: http://www.thyroid.org/professionals/publications/documents/Guidelinesthy2006.pdf.

Last Updated: April 7, 2009

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