Skin Nodules: Everything You Need to Know

A nodule is a general term for a growth or lump that can be found just underneath the skin or in organs, such as thyroid and lungs. While most nodules are harmless, some can be caused by other health conditions or be cancerous.

Find out more about the causes, types, symptoms, when to see a healthcare provider and treatment for nodules.

Skin nodule

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The Journal of the Dermatology Nurses' Association defines skin nodules as palpable, solid lesions that are greater than 10 millimeters (less than half an inch) in diameter. Nodules are often found in the dermal (second layer of skin) or subcutaneous (third layer of skin) tissue. They can be solid or cystic raised bumps (closed sacs filled with air, fluid, pus, or another substance) that may appear above, level with, or below the skin's surface.

There are many reasons why nodules can occur. Certain types of skin nodules can be caused by autoimmune diseases, bacterial and fungal infections, sun exposure, friction, and other conditions.

A nodule that is found on the thyroid (a butterfly-shaped gland at the front of the neck) may be due to an overactive thyroid. A nodule found on another part of the neck or under the armpit may be the body's responses to infection. Vocal cord nodules may occur when there has been overuse or misuse of the vocal cords.


Skin nodules

Skin nodules can include a wide variety of raised skin bumps such as acne, cysts, blisters, skin tags, moles, lipomas, rashes, or inflammatory nodules related to respiratory illness, infections, or allergies. They vary in shape, size, color, and feel. They may or may not be accompanied by other symptoms. The best way to identify the nodule is to see a skin specialist, such as a board-certified dermatologist.

Most skin nodules are not harmful, however, suspicious bumps or mole-like lesions that are new, that won't heal, or that have changed could indicate skin cancer and should be examined right away.

Lymph node nodules

You have lymph nodes throughout your body. They are naturally hard to find, but when you are sick, they may become enlarged and elevated from the skin. Some common places that lymph nodes can become enlarged include the neck, groin, and armpit. Lymph node swelling is usually due to infections (such as strep throat or chicken pox), certain medicines, immune system diseases, and, in rare instances, cancer.

Thyroid nodules

A nodule in the thyroid is an abnormal growth of thyroid cells. These types of nodules are very common and usually harmless. They can be associated with certain conditions, such as Hashimoto's thyroiditis or an iodine deficiency. Sometimes, these nodules are cancerous.

Vocal cord nodules

Vocal cord nodules are lumps in your vocal cord folds, which usually occur due to overusing or straining your vocal cords, as when yelling or singing. Additional factors, such as allergies, smoking, and tense muscles, may also cause vocal cord nodules.

Lung nodules

Lung nodules (also called pulmonary nodules) are defined as nodules or abnormal growths on the lungs that can measure up to 3 centimeters. They are usually categorized into different groups, including solid nodules, ground-glass nodules, and part-solid nodules.

Lung nodules are common and can occur for many reasons, including infections, scar tissue, autoimmune diseases, and congenital abnormalities. Lung nodules are often benign (not harmful) but some can be cancerous. Having more than one lung nodule increases the risk of nodules being cancerous.


Other types of skin nodules include acne nodules, nodular melanoma, dermatofibroma, rheumatoid nodules.


Symptoms of skin nodules depend on the cause. For example:

  • A nodule that starts to bleed may cause pain or irritation.
  • A nodule that is caused by inflammation or infection may be accompanied by other symptoms, such as fever and body aches.
  • A nodule on the vocal cords may cause a scratchy voice.

If your nodule is being caused by an autoimmune disease, you may experience symptoms unique to that disease. For example, people with rheumatoid arthritis may have nodules close to their joints that can cause pain.

Nodules found in organs may be discovered when no symptoms are present. Your healthcare provider may discover them during a routine examination or through diagnostic imaging, such as a CT (computed tomography) scan.

When to See a Healthcare Professional

Discovering a new growth on your body that you are unfamiliar with usually warrants a visit with your healthcare provider. Especially if you are unsure of the cause, if it is creating discomfort, if it is growing rapidly, and/or if it's not going away. In addition, regular checkups are important for overall health and well-being.

When experiencing new symptoms or symptoms that will not go away, it's important to have a discussion with your healthcare provider.


Treatment will depend on the location, size, status, and cause of the nodule, but may include monitoring (also called watchful waiting), medications, or surgery. If the nodule is cancerous or caused by another health condition or illness, treatment of the underlying condition is often the first step.


Nodules on the skin can appear just below the surface or deeper within organs. Symptoms will depend on the cause. Most nodules are not harmful but should be examined by a healthcare provider to determine the cause and treatment.

A Word From Verywell

Developing some type of skin nodule on or underneath the skin is common. Most of the time, there is no cause for concern. However, if nodules are growing, spreading, or causing pain, it is important to see a healthcare provider for examination and treatment options, if necessary. Monitoring changes to your body and going for regular checkups is important for overall health and well-being.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is a nodule the same as a tumor?

    Both nodules and tumors are abnormal masses in the body that can be benign (not harmful) or malignant (cancerous). One main differentiator is size. A growth is typically classified as a nodule when it's less than 2 centimeters and a tumor when it is greater than 2 centimeters.

    Not all tumors are cancerous. Benign tumors grow slowly and generally stay in their primary location without invading other sites of the body.

  • Do nodules hurt?

    Most nodules do not cause pain, but nodules that interfere with other organs or those that are related to other diseases can. This will depend on the underlying cause, location, and size of the nodule.

  • Will nodules go away on their own?

    Some nodules will go away when the underlying condition is treated, while other nodules may be left alone if they are not causing symptoms. Nodules that are cancerous or causing pain may need other treatments, such as surgery.

    Remember that new or changing skin growths always warrant a visit with your healthcare provider. Most nodules are harmless, but some can be cancerous and dangerous if left untreated. Only a medical professional can determine this.

10 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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  6. American Cancer Society. Lymph Nodes and Cancer.

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  8. Loverdos K, Fotiadis A, Kontogianni C, Iliopoulou M, Gaga M. Lung nodules: A comprehensive review on current approach and management. Ann Thorac Med. 2019 Oct-Dec;14(4):226-238. doi: 10.4103/atm.ATM_110_19

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By Barbie Cervoni MS, RD, CDCES, CDN
Barbie Cervoni MS, RD, CDCES, CDN, is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist.