What is a Thyroid Cyst?

Cysts are fluid-filled sacs that may occur anywhere in the body. Small cysts that appear on the thyroid, a gland located at the base of the neck, do not normally produce symptoms. Large thyroid cysts, on the other hand, can cause neck pain, bleeding, difficulty in swallowing, and change in voice quality due to the weight of the cyst pressing down on the thyroid and vocal cords.

Most thyroid cysts are benign (harmless), but some may contain malignant (cancer) cells. A fine needle aspiration biopsy can determine if cancer is present. This type of biopsy inserts a thin needle into the cyst to take a fluid sample that is then sent to a laboratory for examination. Malignant thyroid cysts usually require surgical removal.

Benign thyroid cysts can be treated using nonsurgical procedures like aspiration and injection. Similar to fine needle aspiration biopsy, cyst aspiration involves the insertion of a needle into the cyst. However, the needle used in cyst aspiration is thicker, and all of the fluid inside the cyst is drained. The downside of cyst aspirations is that they are often temporary fixes, as cysts tend to grow back after the procedure. To reduce the risk of recurrence, either salt water or a sclerosing agent can be injected into a cyst immediately following aspiration. Sclerosing agents are medications that cause cysts to form scar tissue and harden, preventing their recurrence. Both cyst aspiration and cyst injection may be performed in an outpatient facility, which means a hospital stay is not typically required.

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