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Comprehensive care for lung nodules

Lung nodules

Hearing that there’s a “spot on your lung” after a chest X-ray or CT scan can be concerning. The good news is that these “spots” are typically small, benign (non-cancerous) lung nodules. We’re here to diagnose, monitor and guide you through treatment.

What is a lung nodule?

A lung nodule (or pulmonary nodule) is a small, round or oval-shaped growth in the lungs that is up to 3 centimeters in diameter. A lung nodule larger than 3 centimeters is called a lung mass.

Lung nodules are common, mostly in those who smoke, and are typically benign (non-cancerous) but can also be malignant (cancerous). You may have a single lung nodule or several.

Symptoms of lung nodules

Most lung nodules don’t cause any symptoms and are often found on a chest X-ray or CT scan performed for another reason.

If symptoms are present, they may include:

  • Coughing
  • Coughing up blood
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Respiratory infection

What causes a lung nodule?

The most common causes of lung nodules are inflamed tissue due to an infection or inflammation (called granulomas) or benign lung tumors (such as hamartomas).

Less common, malignant lung nodules are typically caused by lung cancer or other cancers that have spread to the lungs (metastatic cancer).

Other causes may include:

  • Infections: When your immune system acts against an infection, it will form a granuloma. Infections can be bacterial, fungal or parasitic.
  • Inflammation: Inflammation from conditions like sarcoidosis and rheumatoid arthritis can also cause granulomas to form.

Is it cancer?

In most cases, a lung nodule does not mean cancer. However, certain risk factors can increase the likelihood that a lung nodule is malignant. These can include:

  • Being over the age of 50
  • A nodule larger than 3 centimeters
  • Smoking
  • Having a family history of lung cancer
  • Having symptoms of lung cancer
  • Growth or irregular borders
  • Having multiple nodules

Diagnosing lung nodules

Once a lung nodule is identified, you’ll likely see a pulmonologist who can assess it to determine whether it’s a cause for concern.

To start, your doctor will discuss your medical history with you, perform a physical exam and a chest X-ray or CT scan. These scans can help your doctor see the size, shape and location of the lung nodule, as well as other characteristics, like calcium deposits. From there, they may recommend additional tests to rule out cancer or to determine another underlying cause. These can include:

  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan – A PET scan can help your doctor determine if a lung nodule is non-cancerous or cancerous, because it allows them to get a more detailed look.
  • Biopsy – During a biopsy, your doctor removes a small amount of tissue from the nodule to examine closely under a microscope. The biopsy can be collected through a minimally invasive procedure called a bronchoscopy, which involves placing a thin, flexible tube through your mouth or nose to the nodule.
  • Other tests – Your doctor may suggest blood testing or other tests to rule out other conditions, such as tuberculosis.

Treatment for lung nodules

Once the cause of your lung nodule is determined, your doctor and care team will discuss your next steps with you.

In most cases, if your lung nodule is small and your cancer risk is low, your doctor will suggest monitoring it through a series of X-rays over time to track its growth and any changes. Non-cancerous nodules grow slowly, if at all, while cancerous nodules grow quickly. If the nodule hasn’t grown or changed over a period of a few years, it can be left alone.

If your lung nodule is large, determined to be cancerous or causing you to have symptoms, your doctor may recommend having it removed it surgically. If surgery is recommended, your doctor will discuss all options with you.

Lung nodule care at Geisinger

Our pulmonology team is here to diagnose, monitor and provide treatment for lung nodules that’s right for you. We offer:

  • Knowledge and experience – Your pulmonology team’s combined years of experience and research give them the expertise necessary to diagnose, treat and help you manage lung nodules. Learn more about our pulmonologists.
  • Personalized care – When you need treatment for lung nodules, our pulmonology team will work one on one with you to create a treatment plan that’s tailored to your specific needs. With proper treatment and management of lung nodules, we can make sure that you stay healthy.
  • Convenient locations and appointments – With pulmonologists available in Geisinger clinics and hospitals throughout Pennsylvania, you don’t have to travel far to get the care you need. We also offer extended clinic hours and minimal wait times to be seen, so you get care that’s convenient for you.