Learning About Lung Nodules

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Lungs in chest, with two nodules in upper left lung

What is a lung nodule?

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 noncancerous growth.

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. Your doctor 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, density, and other characteristics 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 CT scans later to see if the nodule is growing.
  • 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 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 http://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.