Lung nodules are small abnormal growths, measuring less than 1.2 inches in diameter, that appear in the lungs. Lung nodules are quite common and are often benign (non-cancerous). However, a small percentage, less than five percent, of pulmonary nodules are diagnosed as malignant (cancerous). Benign nodules tend to remain a constant size over time, whereas an indication of a malignant nodule is a growth that increases in size.

Most of the time, lung nodules go unnoticed and are only identified when individuals undergo a CT scan or X-ray screening of the chest for diagnosis of another health complication.

Symptoms of Non-specific Pulmonary Nodules

In general, pulmonary nodules do not generate any symptoms and are found while conducting diagnostic testing for other conditions. If an individual does experience symptoms from a nodule, he/she may experience:

  • A new cough that does not go away or that worsens
  • Coughing up blood
  • Shortness of breath

Causes of Non-specific Pulmonary Nodules

Pulmonary nodules can develop for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Infections: Infections, such as tuberculosis, can result in nodules when the body forms granulomas in order to protect the rest of the body from infection.
  • Non-infectious conditions: Non-infectious conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, can cause inflammation in the body and therefore can cause nodules to develop.
  • Non-cancerous abnormal growths: Sometimes, an abnormal growth develops but it does not cause harm to nearby tissue and will not spread to other parts of the body. This is referred to as a non-cancerous growth.

What to Expect at Your Appointment

If it is discovered that you have a lung nodule, your doctor will most likely request information regarding your medical history and if you have a history of smoking, exposure to secondhand smoke, or toxic substances.

In addition, your doctor may want to conduct further testing to determine whether the nodule is benign or malignant. Some of the diagnostic tests prescribed may include:

  • Imaging tests: Imaging tests produce detailed images of the chest region that are used to determine the size and general shape of the nodule. A larger nodule, or a nodule that has an irregular shape, may be indicative of cancer.
  • Biopsy: If your doctor believes the nodule may be cancerous, he/she may want to conduct a biopsy. A biopsy is a procedure used to collect a small sample of tissue from the nodule. This sample is then analyzed in a laboratory to determine if it contains cancerous cells.
  • Surgical resection: Surgical resection is a procedure to remove the nodule. After removal, the nodule may be analyzed in a laboratory to determine whether it is benign or malignant.

Non-Surgical Treatments for Non-specific Pulmonary Nodules

Pulmonary nodules generally do not require treatment if they do not have indications of being malignant. In these cases, the physician will most likely want to monitor the nodule using imaging studies to observe any changes in the size and shape of the growth over time.

If the nodule has formed due to an infection, treatment for the infection will be prescribed.

Surgical Treatment for Non-specific Pulmonary Nodules and Post-Treatment

If the nodule has been found to be cancerous, surgery may be required to remove the growth. Surgical treatments used to remove pulmonary nodules include minimally invasive procedures, such as:

  • Video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS): This procedure is performed by making a few, small incisions in the chest. Through one incision, a special instrument called a thoracoscope is inserted. A thoracoscope is a thin, flexible tube with a camera attached to the end that allows the surgeon to view the inside of the chest. Through the remaining incisions, the surgeon inserts the surgical instruments and removes the cancerous tissue.
  • Robotic-assisted thoracic surgery: Robotic-assisted surgery is similar to VATS in that it uses a few small incisions and special instruments to perform the surgery. The difference with this procedure is that the surgeon operates the instruments remotely using a robotic console. This technology gives the surgeon more dexterity and greater range of motion to perform the surgery.

Make an Appointment

For an appointment with a specialist, call 202-877-3627.