Learning About Lung Nodules

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What is a lung nodule?

The lungs

A lung nodule is a growth in the lung. A single nodule surrounded by lung tissue is called a solitary pulmonary nodule.

A lung nodule might not cause any symptoms. Your doctor may have found one or more nodules on your lung when you were having a chest X-ray or CT scan. Or it may have been found during a lung cancer screening.

A lung nodule may be caused by an old infection or cancer. It might also be a non-cancerous growth.

Lung nodules can cause a screening to give an abnormal result. Most nodules do not cause any harm. But without further tests, your doctor can't tell whether an abnormal finding is cancer, a harmless nodule, or something else.

What can you expect when you have a lung nodule?

Your doctor will look at several risk factors to see how likely it is that the nodule is cancer. He or she will look at:

  • Whether you smoke or have ever smoked.
  • Your age and your family's medical history.
  • Whether you have ever had lung cancer.
  • The size and shape of the nodule.
  • Whether the nodule has changed in size. Your doctor may look at past chest X-rays or CT scans, if available, and compare them. Or you may have a series of CT scans to see if the nodule grows over time.

What happens next depends on the risk of the nodule being cancer.

  • If you have no risk factors and the nodule is small, your doctor may advise doing nothing.
  • If the risk is small, your doctor may schedule follow-up appointments and tests. You may have more CT scans later to see if the nodule is growing. If the nodule hasn't changed in 3 to 6 months, you may have CT scans every year. If it hasn't changed in 2 years, you may not need any more tests.
  • If there's a higher risk of cancer, your doctor may:
    • Do a PET scan, which may help tell if the nodule is cancerous or not.
    • Take a sample of tissue from the nodule for testing. This is called a biopsy.
    • Remove the nodule with surgery.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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