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.


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