Are Lung Nodules Cancerous?

x-ray, lung nodules, lung cancer, nodule on lung, lungsNodules on the lungs are small, round or oval-shaped growths found in the lungs. If a growth is less than three centimeters (1.2 inches) in diameter, it’s considered a nodule. If a growth is larger than three centimeters, it’s considered a pulmonary mass. Are all abnormal growths cancerous? Some of them are, especially larger pulmonary masses. But it’s important to note that more than 90% of pulmonary nodules less than 2 centimeters (3/4 inch) in diameter are benign (non-cancerous).[1]

How did my Doctor find My Lung Nodule?

Pulmonary nodules are usually found by accident when a patient with a respiratory illness goes for a chest X-ray or CT scan of the chest as part of their treatment plan.

Is My Lung Nodule Benign or Cancerous?

Because early detection of lung cancer leads to earlier treatment and a better chance of survival, it’s extremely important to determine whether your lung nodule is benign or cancerous as early in the process as possible.[2]

If you’ve had previous imaging studies, your doctor will compare them with your current one. If the nodule from your previous imaging study hasn’t increased in size or changed in shape or appearance for two years, it’s probably benign. Moreover, your lung nodule is more likely to be benign if:2

  • You’re under the age of 40
  • You’re a non-smoker
  • The nodule contains calcium
  • The nodule is small

Treatment of Benign Lung Nodules

Non-cancerous lung nodules are usually caused by a previous infection and require no treatment. Your doctor may recommend an annual chest X-ray to make sure the lung nodule hasn’t grown or changed in shape or appearance.2

What are the Chances of Cancer?

Even if your lung nodule turns out to be cancerous, it’s likely to be in the earliest stages of the disease and respond well to treatment. According to the American Thoracic Society, “people with early stage lung cancer that is treated are less likely to die of lung cancer than people who are diagnosed at a later stage when the cancer has started to cause symptoms.”3
x-ray, small cell lung cancer, lung cancer

But I’m so Worried!

Undergoing diagnostic tests to determine if nodules on your lungs are cancerous can be a very stressful, frightening experience. After all, it’s normal to be worried and anxious when you hear the word “cancer.” It’s important that you talk about these feelings with your healthcare providers, family and friends and remember, fewer than 5% of pulmonary nodules turn out to be cancerous.[3]

About Further Testing

If a lung nodule appears suspicious, your doctor may simply observe it through multiple chest X-rays over a period of time. On the other hand, she may recommend a biopsy of the nodule or its complete removal if:2

  • You smoke.
  • The nodule is large.
  • You have symptoms.
  • The nodule has grown.
  • A CT scan suggests the nodule is cancerous.
  • You have other cancer risks, such as a family history of cancer or a history of working with asbestos.

What about Surgery?

Surgical removal of a cancerous lung tumor involves one of several procedures. Which procedure you have will depend upon the type of tumor you have and its location. During surgery, your surgeon will try to remove as little tissue as possible. However, if more lung tissue turns out to be cancerous, a section or sections, one or more lobes, or the entire lung, would have to be removed.

Tip: Before consenting to surgery patients are encouraged to ask questions so they’re able to give “informed consent,” the process of fully understanding the risks and benefits of a procedure. For more information about nodules on the lungs, talk to your primary care provider.

[1] Cleveland Clinic. Pulmonary Nodules. Accessed September 30, 2017.

[2] WebMD. Pulmonary Nodules. Last reviewed January 15, 2017.

[3] American Thoracic Society. What is a Lung Nodule? Accessed October 2, 2012.

8 thoughts on “Are Lung Nodules Cancerous?”

  1. Avatar Jerry Lambert says:

    I have had small nodules for about 10 years. They were first found by a CT scan and I've had an annual scan every year since and so far the nodules have not grown in size or number. I will be seeing my pulmonologist this week and he will no doubt give me a script for an annual CT scan. I am almost sure I have COPD coupled with some asthma.

    1. Inogen Inogen says:

      Hi Jerry, That's good news that your nodules have not grown in size or number. It sounds like you're being diligent about your annual CT scans and check-ups which is also great to hear. Please continue to take care of yourself and continue to see your doctor on a regular basis, as early detection of lung cancer is linked to a better chance of survival.

  2. Avatar Donna says:

    I have stage 4 enphazema with a benign nodule in my left lung and a nodule in the right lung being checked again. I only have 22 percent lung usage, if I have cancer what type of treatment would you recommend

    1. Inogen Inogen says:

      Hi Donna, We're sorry to hear about your diagnosis. Nodules can be benign or cancerous so it's important to have your doctor run all the necessary tests. Since we are not your primary care doctor and we are not familiar with your medical history we are not able to recommend what kind of treatment you should have. We know you may be worried but keep in mind that according to the American Thoracic Society less than 5% of pulmonary nodules turn out to be cancerous.

  3. Avatar Marilyn Ditzel says:

    I have had lung cancer in both lungs. Diagnosed in 2010. I had stereotactic radiation on both lungs which eradicated the cancer with little tissue damage to both. I also have COPD, when my O2 level goes below 90% I use my stationary condenser with long tubes to get around the house. If I go out , I use my enogen one G3 with an 8 hour battery. I always take my other 8 hour battery with me. If not in use I carry it in a book bag. Again when my O2 level drops below 90%, I turn it on. Excellent unit, works well for me.

  4. Avatar Ruth sumerel says:

    I have tried to get one of these, for one reason or another my BSBC Federal n my Medicare will not let me, I'm on O2 24-7, I wonder if This company that I get my stuff from is preventing me from having the machine so they can keep me on oxygen, I have know why of finding out

    1. Inogen Inogen says:

      Hi Ruth, Medicare bills 3 years in a 5 year billing cycle meaning Medicare collects everything in the first 3 years. They do this to reduce the number of collections and to reduce the chance for clerical errors. Because Medicare bills this way, if you've been on oxygen therapy through Medicare for an extended period of time, most likely there are not enough months left to collect. I hope this makes sense – if not, please call an Oxygen Specialist at 1-800-374-9038.

  5. Avatar Diane says:

    I have four lung nodules which were found 10 years ago. Three have never changed and are minute. The fourth has been noted as 4mm x 6mm, 5.1mm x 6.9mm, 7mm, stable since 2009, 5 to 6mm x 4mm and last year the radiologist said MAY have increased to 7mm x 4mm. Another doctor was asked to compare the scan from 9/ 2016 and 11/ 2017 and said 7mm x 4mm. I'm waiting on results from my last scan but these readings are from a total of 10 years and in 2012 – 2015 I had PET scans which were clear. I have no symptoms with the nodule. No shortness of breath. I'm confused by all the different readings.

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