What Is a Nodule?

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A nodule is a growth or lump that develops on or within the body. For example, it can develop beneath the skin, in the lungs, or on glands such as the thyroid. When a health condition presents with nodules, it is considered nodularity.

Nodules are incredibly common and can be cancerous (malignant) or benign (non-cancerous). This article discusses the symptoms, causes, and types of nodules a person can develop throughout their lifetime.

Doctor performing ultrasound on woman's neck

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Nodule Symptoms

A nodule is a symptom in and of itself, and its main feature is that it’s firm to the touch. Other than the lump, a person may experience no symptoms at all.

Other signs of a nodule will depend on where it is located. For example: 

  • Thyroid: A thyroid nodule can lead to impaired thyroid function and difficulty swallowing if the nodule is large enough.
  • Lung nodule: Most lung nodules do not cause symptoms, but they can correlate to shortness of breath or fatigue, depending on the cause. 
  • Abdominal nodule: Nodules that affect the gastrointestinal tract may present with symptoms such as pain, fatigue, coughing, and shortness of breath.

Determining if there is a nodule within the body without other symptoms is sometimes difficult. They often appear during routine physical exams or screening tests.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Because many nodules can go undetected, paying attention to your overall health is essential. Contact a healthcare provider if you experience any worrisome symptoms, such as chronic fatigue, a new or worsening cough, or shortness of breath. They will conduct the appropriate tests to determine if a nodule is present and whether it is causing symptoms. If you have noticed any new growth on or in your body, you must also see your healthcare provider regardless of symptoms.

Nodule Causes

There are many reasons why a nodule might form, including the following:

  • Infection: Viral, bacterial, and fungal infections can all lead to the development of nodules in the body. One example of this would be Milker’s nodule, which is caused by a virus.
  • Cancer: Cancerous nodules can form in the lungs, glands, or organs. That said, most nodules are not cancerous.
  • Tissue overgrowth: Nodules can form in glands that produce hormones, such as the thyroid gland, due to an overgrowth of thyroid tissue.
  • Hormone overproduction: In some cases, a thyroid nodule may also develop if too much thyroid hormone is produced.
  • Iodine deficiency: A lack of iodine, an essential trace mineral, can lead to the development of thyroid nodules.
  • Lymphadenopathy: Lymphadenopathy is the medical term for swollen lymph nodes. When lymph nodes swell, they have the same feel and appearance as a nodule.
  • Inflammatory disorders: Some inflammatory diseases cause nodules, especially those that affect the skin.

Are Nodules Always Serious?

Because many causes are associated with nodules, not all of them will be serious. The only way to tell between a harmless lump and one that requires medical examination is by having the appropriate testing.

Types of Nodules

Various types of nodules can develop within the body or underneath the skin. Types include:

Lymph Node Nodules

Lymph nodes are small structures that help to filter substances in the body and help send white blood cells where they need to go to fight infection. When they are helping the body fight off an illness, they temporarily grow.

They appear as nodules under the armpit, groin, and around the neck when enlarged. Lymph nodules can also form in the intestines and tonsils. They can be both cancerous and non-cancerous.

Vocal Cord Nodules

Vocal cord nodules form when a person strains their voice from overuse. When a person develops one, they can experience:

  • Hoarseness
  • A change in tone of voice
  • A raspy and breathy voice

They are typically non-cancerous and often go away independently when a person rests their voice.

Thyroid Nodules

Thyroid nodules form in the thyroid because of inflammation, a tumor, or an overgrowth of thyroid tissue. People with thyroid nodules may experience pain or discomfort while swallowing or feel pressure on their thyroid area.

Lung Nodules

Lung nodules, also called pulmonary nodules, rarely present with symptoms unless a person has advanced lung cancer. They are typically found during screening tests for people at a higher risk of developing nodules or masses in the lungs, such as heavy lifelong smokers.

Cancerous vs. Non-Cancerous Lung Nodules

Though many lung nodules are benign, as much as 40% turn out to be cancerous.

Abdominal Nodules

An abdominal nodule can form within the digestive tract or in areas outside the intestines. There are many reasons a nodule would develop in this area of the body, including gastritis.  

Skin Nodules

Skin nodules can develop anywhere on the body and are found in the second or third layer of skin, known as the dermal or subcutaneous layers, respectively. They develop for many reasons, including infection, inflammatory skin disorders, and cancer.

More Nodule Types

Nodules can form anywhere in the body, so the above list is not exhaustive. Other types include: 


To diagnose the cause of a nodule, your healthcare provider will physically examine the growth.

If they find it during a computed tomography scan (CT scan) or other scans, they will likely conduct other tests such as an ultrasound or more imaging. To determine if the nodule is cancerous, they must remove it and send it in for laboratory testing.

The type of nodule will determine the extent of testing needed. For example, a skin nodule can be sampled easily with a skin biopsy, which removes a portion of the suspicious bump or tissue for microscopic testing. One that's found in the lungs is often harder to get to and requires minimally invasive surgery.

The Wait-and-See Method

Sometimes, a discovered nodule may be left alone. This is called the wait-and-see method. Healthcare providers will book routine tests to see if the nodule grows over time or develops new features. This can be a good indicator of whether it is cancerous or needs further testing.


Treating nodules isn’t always straightforward. As mentioned above, they may be left untreated for observation before a medical provider decides to pursue further testing and therapies. That is because they do not always develop into cancer or pose a health threat.

If a nodule is cancerous or harmful, surgery can remove it. The type of surgery will depend on where it is in the body. Most often, laparoscopic surgery, a minimally invasive surgery that makes small incisions, will remove the nodules. This technique can also remove endometrial nodules, which develop within the endometrial tissue in the uterus.

Other possible treatment options for cancerous nodules include chemotherapy and radiation.

The Right Treatment

Healthcare providers will determine what type of nodule you have before choosing the proper treatment. Knowing the type will make all the difference in figuring out the appropriate therapy technique.


Nodules are growths of tissue that can be both cancerous and non-cancerous. They can develop anywhere in the body and do not always come with symptoms. In many cases, a nodule is entirely harmless and requires no treatment. Before determining that, a healthcare provider will conduct various tests, including imaging scans and a biopsy, to ensure that it is not cancerous or harmful and can be left alone.

If a nodule does need to be removed because it is cancerous or is causing other health issues, medical providers opt for the least invasive surgery possible. Sometimes, chemotherapy or radiation may prove necessary if a nodule is cancerous. Not all nodules are something to worry about, but you should also see a healthcare provider if you notice a new growth.

14 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Angelica Bottaro
Angelica Bottaro is a professional freelance writer with over 5 years of experience. She has been educated in both psychology and journalism, and her dual education has given her the research and writing skills needed to deliver sound and engaging content in the health space.