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  • Writer's pictureDr. Richard Harding

Can radiofrequency ablation (RFA) safely treat and shrink thyroid nodules?

Updated: Jan 8

The authors of a recent study, “Safety and Efficacy of Radiofrequency Ablation of Thyroid Nodules—Expanding Treatment Options in the United States,” published in the Journal of the Endocrine Society, found that RFA is safe and effective for treating benign thyroid nodules that cause problems due to their size or function. RFA is less risky than surgery and radioactive iodine, and it helps keep your thyroid working properly.

In this study, doctors looked at how well radiofrequency ablation (RFA) worked for people with thyroid nodules.

The study was done by reviewing the charts of patients who had RFA for their thyroid nodules at The Thyroid Clinic in Salt Lake City, Utah between November 2018 and January 2021. All patients had a physical exam, blood tests for thyroid function, and thyroid ultrasound before the procedure. Patients who had suspicious findings on the ultrasound had a thyroid biopsy. Patients who had metal hardware/ pacemaker, pregnancy, or suspicious results on fine-needle aspiration biopsy were not treated with RFA procedure. The nodules that were producing too much thyroid hormone causing hyperthyroidism and nodules that were mostly solid and were bothersome due to their size causing pressure in the neck and choking symptoms or cosmetic concerns were treated with RFA.

The doctors found that RFA was successful in shrinking the nodules in most patients. In fact, the average decrease in size was 70% on initial evaluation. The volume of the smaller nodules decreased more than the larger nodules. Thyroid blood tests and hyperthyroid symptoms improved in the nodules making too much thyroid hormone. Thyroid function tests remained normal in the nodules that were treated due to size. There were no major complications.

Thyroid nodules are small lumps that can grow in the thyroid gland, which is located in the neck. They are common and can be found in more than half of the population in the United States. Most of the time, they do not cause any problems. However, some nodules can be cancerous and require surgery. If the nodule is not cancerous, it can still cause problems if it grows too large and causes discomfort or changes the appearance of the neck. Another situation that can be harmful is when the nodule produces too much thyroid hormone, which can cause hyperthyroidism. In these cases, doctors may recommend surgery or radioactive iodine therapy to remove or shrink the nodule. Both treatments have some risks, such as hypothyroidism, which means that you may need to take thyroid hormone replacement pills for the rest of your life. Surgery can also leave a scar and sometimes affect your voice.

In recent years, doctors have been using new treatments to help people with thyroid nodules. One of these treatments is called radiofrequency ablation (RFA). During RFA, a thin needle is inserted into the nodule under ultrasound guidance. Then, an electrical current passes through the needle, which generates heat and burns the cells inside the nodule. This causes the nodule to shrink and turn into scar tissue. The best part is that this procedure can be done in the doctor’s office without putting you to sleep with general anesthesia. However, only a few doctors in the United States are experts in administering this treatment.

Dr. Richard Harding has performed over 90 RFA treatments in the last 3 years.

Cited Research

Hussain I, Zulfiqar F, Li X, Ahmad S, Aljammal J. “Safety and Efficacy of Radiofrequency Ablation of Thyroid Nodules—Expanding Treatment Options in the United States.” Journal of the Endocrine Society, vol. 5, no. 8, Aug. 2021, p. bvab110. (Crossref),

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