New Treatment Option For People Dealing With Thyroid Nodules

Thyroid nodules can greatly diminish the quality of life and become disfiguring, but a non-invasive treatment option may help.

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A new treatment may help people who suffer from a problem that becomes common as we age.

Thyroid nodules, or growths on the thyroid gland, affect about 50% of people who reach the age of 60.

Most thyroid nodules are noncancerous, but even benign nodules can cause health problems, including persistent coughing, difficulty breathing, difficulty swallowing, and hoarseness. Large nodules can be disfiguring as well.

Now, a procedure performed at UT Southwestern for the first time can alleviate the problem with little downtime.

Beatrice Bell-Percival was the first UTSW to undergo the non-surgical technique called radiofrequency ablation (RFA).

The cancer survivor said she knew the mass was benign but was uncomfortable with how it continued to grow, so she sought remedies from endocrinologist Dr. Iram Hssain, M.D., assistant professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern.

RFA uses an electrode with a high-frequency current to generate heat to burn the tissue, leading to cell death and shrinking of the treated part over time.

Traditional therapy is surgery to remove the nodule, which usually also means the removal of half of the thyroid.

"It's basically going in and kind of burning the nodule from the inside so that it shrivels up and shrinks," said Dr. Hussain. "If she had gotten surgery, then she would have approximately a 15 to 30% chance of needing thyroid hormone therapy afterward."

Bell-Percival had very little downtime and now the nodule is 60% smaller.

Not only does she say she's happy surgery wasn't her only option, but she's also even more thrilled to have back her quality of life.

"There is still a whole lot of life in me and I want a good quality of life!" she said.

The procedure can only be done on people whose nodules are benign.

RFA has long been used to treat liver tumors, varicose veins, and other conditions. Since it received FDA approval in 2018, a handful of medical centers, including UT Southwestern, have begun using the technique to treat benign thyroid nodules as well.

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