Thyroid : official journal of the American Thyroid Association 2017 09 1427(11) 1378-1384 doi 10.1089/thy.2017.0201
The term "nodular goiter" has long been used to refer to a nodular thyroid gland, based on the assumption that nodule growth may be associated with hyperplasia of the surrounding non-nodular tissue. The aim of this prospective, multicenter, observational study was to determine whether nodule growth is accompanied by growth in the non-nodular tissue.
Eight Italian thyroid-disease referral centers enrolled 992 consecutive patients with one to four benign nodules. Nodular and non-nodular thyroid tissue volumes were assessed for five years with annual ultrasound examinations.
In participants whose nodules remained stable (n = 839), thyroid volumes did not change (baseline 15.0 mL [confidence interval (CI) 14.5-15.6]; five-year evaluation 15.1 mL [CI 14.5-15.7]). In participants with significant growth of one or more nodule (n = 153), thyroid volumes increased and by year 5 were significantly greater than those of the former group (17.4 mL [CI 16-18.7]). In 76 individuals with unilateral nodules that grew, the mean nodular lobe volume significantly exceeded that of the contralateral lobe (8.6 mL [CI 7.4-9.8] vs. 6.7 mL [CI 6-7.4]). The unaffected lobe volumes remained stable over time, while nodular lobes grew steadily and were significantly greater at the end of follow-up (10.1 mL [CI 8.9-11.3]). Excluding the volume of the largest growing nodule in these cases, the remaining volume of the affected lobe remained virtually unchanged with respect to its baseline value. Furthermore, there was no significant difference in the non-nodular tissue volume between the unaffected lobe and the affected lobe (with the largest growing nodule volume subtracted), both at baseline and at the end of follow-up.
The growth of thyroid nodules is a local process, not associated with growth of the surrounding non-nodular tissue. Therefore, a normal-sized thyroid containing nodules should be referred to as a "uni- or multinodular thyroid gland" and considered a distinct entity from "uni- or multinodular goiter."