Tale of the nodule

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. The things I write here are just based on my own personal experience, how I understand my doctors’ explanations, and some online research I did to help me understand more about what was happening to me.


It was just a lump. One fine day in July while I was putting on moisturizer on my face and neck, I felt a firm lump at the front left part of my neck near the base. It felt as big as a cherry (or specifically I described it as like having a “sinigwelas” stuck in my neck). I knew it wasn’t there before, not that big to be felt anyway. My mom was around that time so I told her about it. She told me to have it checked by the doctor.

I never thought I would be dealing with any major medical issue anytime soon, but that’s how simply I discovered it.

I went to the GP to have it checked. He did a simple physical examination of it, then sent me for an ultrasound. The ultrasound confirmed a solitary thyroid nodule in my left thyroid about 3.3cm. I went back to the GP with the results, and he sent me for more tests, blood tests to check my thyroid hormones, and fine needle biopsy (FNB) for the nodule. This entire thing, from the first GP visit to the FNB results, went on for a few weeks. When my GP got my FNB results, he referred me to a specialist.

I went for a consult with the specialist, who then sent me for another set of tests – more blood tests, and a thyroid scan (where they give you a small amount of radioactive iodine which should be absorbed by the thyroid and shows the level of function of the thyroid). Immediately after my thyroid scan (I think my specialist was around during the scan, and came over while I was still on the scanning bed) told me that my nodule was cold (or it wasn’t absorbing the radioactive tracer, thus, was non-functioning thyroid tissue) and that he would need to refer me to a surgeon on my next visit. So I went back a week after when the rest of the test results were ready, and the specialist referred me to the surgeon, who luckily had a free slot for a consult on the same day.

I went to the surgeon who checked through my previous test results. He checked my thyroid again with an ultrasound in his own clinic, and noted that the nodule was around 3.7cm (but initially he said the size difference from the first scan may just be due to viewing variances). He also did a nasolaryngoscopy to check my throat and vocal chords. He explained to me the results of my test, and why surgery was recommended to take it out. During that first visit with the surgeon he scheduled me for an operation in less than a month (which I eventually rescheduled a little bit later to time it when my mom can come over to provide support).

During the following weeks while waiting for my surgery, I was starting to feel the lump as a mild pressure inside my throat. Perhaps it was getting a little bit bigger, or maybe it was shifting positions, but I couldn’t really tell.

I don’t think I ever stopped reading any and all online references I could get my hands on on the subject of thyroid nodules and thyroid cancers. I’ve read about the different kinds. I’ve read maybe a hundred times (a lot of times the same articles) about how they are diagnosed and treated. They were mostly saying the same things. And somehow, most were also pointing to the direction that all the characteristics of my nodule were somehow indicating higher risks for malignancy.

Just to review, here were the characteristics of my nodule:

  • Solitary – there were no other visible nodules in the scan
  • Cold – it was comprised of non-functioning thyroid tissue
  • Atypia of undetermined significance – it could not be determined if the mass was benign or malignant based on the FNB alone
  • Bigger than 3cm
  • Thyroid hormones normal
  • Family history – mom had her entire thyroid removed a few years ago and findings include microcarcinoma

I guess that’s the reason why all the doctors I consulted recommended to immediately remove the mass to get a definitive finding if it is benign or malignant. I was undergoing a hemi-thyroidectomy – removing the left lobe of my thyroid. The doctors told me that there is a possibility that they may need to do a second operation to remove the rest of my thyroid if the nodule turns out to be malignant. So I was also trying to ready myself for that possibility.

Mid-November, I finally had my surgery and it went smoothly. The only thing that got me is the horrible nausea and headache after the operation, which was probably the side effects of the anesthetics. Once I got over that, recovery went well.

A little over two weeks after the operation, I had my follow-up appointment with the surgeon and he told me the results of the biopsy. Findings was Hurthle cell adenoma – it was benign! I was relieved. I get to keep the rest of my thyroid for now. The surgeon also told me that it was a good that we have already removed the nodule because there may be a risk of it becoming malignant if it wasn’t removed.

There is a “thin line” between Hurthle cell adenoma (benign) and Hurthle cell carcinoma (malignant).

“If vascular invasion, invasion of adjacent tissues or complete capsular penetration (if the tumor is encapsulated) is demonstrated the tumor is considered malignant” (http://www.med.harvard.edu/JPNM/TF99_00/Nov23/WriteUp.html).

“Unlike many cancers, Hürthle cell cannot be definitively diagnosed with a fine needle aspiration (biopsy). While the biopsy may be suggestive of a tumor that may or may not be cancer, called a Hürthle cell neoplasm, the large majority of these will be found to be benign (called a Hürthle cell adenoma). The only way to confirm the diagnosis of cancer is by identifying capsular or vascular invasion (that is, invasive growth that is seen with cancer). This can only be determined after the nodule is surgically removed and examined by a pathologist in the laboratory… Once there is a diagnosis of a Hürthle cell neoplasm, surgery to remove the affected thyroid lobe is typically the next step to clarify the diagnosis. Only 15-30% of patients will receive a diagnosis of carcinoma after surgery, with the remainder finding the nodule was benign.” (https://www.oncolink.org/cancers/thyroid/all-about-huerthle-cell-carcinoma)

I’m super glad that its Hurthle cell adenoma and not Hurthle cell carcinoma.

“Hürthle cell cancer has the highest incidence of metastasis among the differentiated thyroid cancers… The lungs, bones, and central nervous system are the most prevalent sites of metastases.” (http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/279462-overview)

“No widely accepted paradigm exists for the pathogenesis of follicular and Hürthle cell cancer of the thyroid. Some evidence suggests that a multistep adenoma-to-carcinoma pathway may be involved; however, this concept is not universally accepted. Many of the cells probably develop from preexisting adenomas, but a follicular carcinoma in situ is not recognized pathologically.” (http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/279462-overview#a5)

During that same follow-up, I also asked the doctor about the size of the nodule they removed, since I had a feeling before the surgery that it was slowly getting bigger. He told me that it was possibly around 4cm – indeed a little bit bigger than when it was first diagnosed just four months earlier. I’m so thankful for the perfect timing of when I noticed the lump, when it was diagnosed, when the doctors decided to take it out, and when I finally had the surgery. Otherwise if I or any of my doctors have ignored it, the outcome may have been different.

I’m almost back to my normal self, although I’m still avoiding heavy physical activities and my wound is still recovering from the swelling. I can move my neck, but not yet 100% back to its normal range. I have yet to see my specialist to find out if my remaining half-thyroid is producing enough hormones or if I need to take hormone supplements. But everything is good and well. I no longer need another operation or other therapies. I can start planning my life for 2017.

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