Medical Moment: Using radio frequencies to treat thyroid nodules

Published: Dec. 2, 2022 at 5:40 PM EST
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(WNDU) - Up to 70 percent of all adults may have thyroid nodules at one point in their lives. Most are non-cancerous, and many go undiscovered, or are found by accident during tests for other conditions.

Now, doctors are using a non-invasive method to shrink them in a procedure that takes less than an hour.

Michelle Bylaw is one such person who discovered a problem with her thyroid by accident.

“I just happened to be touching my neck and noticed a bump there,” Bylaw recalled.

A thyroid nodule, not cancerous, but as months went on, the nodule continued to grow.

“I was also getting concerned about whether it would eventually affect my swallowing or anything else in that area,” Bylaw said.

For years, surgery has been the traditional treatment for cancerous thyroid nodules, and for benign nodules that keep growing. Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic are among the first to use radio frequency ablation to treat non-cancerous nodules. Using ultrasound guidance, doctors put a special needle into the nodule.

“We start the ablation process, which involves delivering a certain amount of energy for the needles, so that the nodule is heated,” said Eren Berber, MD, an endocrine surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic.

The procedure lasts up to an hour. Over a three to six month period, the medical team uses ultrasound to monitor the nodule.

“Within six months, you can, up to 50 percent reduction of the size of the nodule in term of its volume,” Dr. Berber said.

For Michelle Bylaw, the procedure meant she could avoid invasive surgery.

“It made the recovery a lot faster and it was a lot less painful than I anticipated,” Bylaw said.

Currently, the procedure is only offered to select patients with benign tumors and not for patients with thyroid cancer.