If you have been told you have a lung (or pulmonary) nodule, you may be concerned about what this means for you and your risk of developing lung cancer.
Commonly called a “spot on the lung” or a “shadow,” a nodule is a round bundle of tissue that is more dense than normal lung tissue. It shows up as a white spot on a CT scan. Lung nodules are usually caused by scar tissue, a healed infection that may never have made you sick, or some irritant in the air that affected your lungs. Sometimes a nodule can be an early sign of lung cancer.
People may be diagnosed with a single nodule or multiple nodules. Usually there are no symptoms associated with pulmonary nodules.
How is a lung nodule diagnosed?
“Lung nodules are generally seen on an X-ray or computed tomography (CT) scan,” says Jay M. Steinberg, DO, Thoracic Surgeon at MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper. “Nodules are not uncommon – they are found in up to half of adults who get a chest X-ray or CT scan.”
Lung nodules are usually about 0.2 inches (5 millimeters) to 1.2 inches (30 millimeters) in size. A larger lung nodule, one that’s 30 millimeters or larger, is more likely to be cancerous than a smaller lung nodule.
How do I know if it is cancer?
“While only about five percent of lung nodules are cancerous, it’s very important to determine whether a nodule is a benign tumor or an early stage of cancer, because early detection and treatment of lung cancer can greatly enhance your survival,” says Dr. Steinberg.
MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper has developed a Lung Nodule Clinic – a program designed to help patients who have lung nodules get answers quickly and definitively about the status of their lung nodules and their risk of developing lung cancer.
MD Anderson Cooper Lung Nodule Clinic
“At MD Anderson Cooper, we take a highly personalized approach to the evaluation and monitoring of lung nodules,” says Frank W. Bowen III, MD, FACS, Chief, Division of Thoracic Surgery.
Our team consists of lung surgeons, pulmonologists and interventional pulmonologists, radiologists, an imaging navigator, nurse practitioners, and other pulmonary and cancer experts. They work together to evaluate a patient’s lung nodules and develop a plan of action.
Depending on your risk factors, our team may suggest simply “watching” a nodule by taking repeated X-rays over a specific course of time or may suggest a biopsy or removal of an entire nodule, depending on risk factors such as:
- Smoking history
- Nodule size
- A change in nodule size or shape
- Symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, fever, or shortness of breath
- A scan suggesting the nodule might be cancerous
“That’s because benign lung nodules grow slowly, if at all, while cancerous nodules, on average, double in size every four months,” says Dr. Bowen. “Our team may continue to check your lung nodule each year for up to five years to ensure that it is benign.”
Benign nodules also tend to have smoother edges and have a more even color throughout, as well as a more regular shape than cancerous nodules. The Lung Nodule team can check speed of growth, shape, and other characteristics on a chest X-ray, CT, or PET scan.
What if my nodule is lung cancer?
“Even if a nodule turns out to be lung cancer, it is likely to be an early stage lung cancer,” says Dr. Bowen. “Finding lung cancer in the early stages means we have more treatment options and a much better chance for a cure.”
To make an appointment with the MD Anderson Cooper Lung Nodule Clinic or for more information about our program, call 856.735.6235.
This article is featured in the Fall 2017 issue of Health Connection. Download the issue by clicking here.