Can lung nodules be cancerous?
Answers from Eric J. Olson, M.D.
Yes, lung nodules can be cancerous, though most lung nodules are noncancerous (benign).
Lung nodules — small masses of tissue in the lung — are quite common. They appear as round, white shadows on a chest X-ray or computerized tomography (CT) scan.
Lung nodules are usually about 0.2 inch (5 millimeters) to 1.2 inches (30 millimeters) in size. A larger lung nodule, such as one that's 30 millimeters or larger, is more likely to be cancerous than is a smaller lung nodule.
If your doctor detects a lung nodule on an imaging test, it's helpful to compare your current imaging scan with a previous one. If the nodule on earlier images hasn't changed in size, shape or appearance in two years, it's probably noncancerous.
Noncancerous lung nodules are often caused by previous infections. Noncancerous lung nodules usually require no treatment. In some cases your doctor may recommend annual chest imaging to see if a lung nodule grows or changes over time.
If a lung nodule is new or has changed in size, shape or appearance, your doctor may recommend further testing — such as a CT scan, positron emission tomography (PET) scan, bronchoscopy or tissue biopsy — to determine if it's cancerous.
April 22, 2017
See more Expert Answers
- AskMayoExpert. Pulmonary nodules. Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2015.
- Weinberger SE, et al. Diagnostic evaluation and management of the solitary pulmonary nodule. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Feb. 9, 2017.
- Gould MK, et al. Evaluation of individuals with pulmonary nodules: When is it lung cancer? Chest. 2013;143(5 suppl):e93S.