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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Lung nodules

A lung nodule is a round area that is more dense than normal lung tissue seen on a chest X-ray or CT scan. They're very common and can be present in up to half of all adults' chest X-rays or CT scans.

Small nodules do not cause any symptoms. They do not cause breathing problems or chest pain.

Causes of lung nodules

Most nodules are caused by scar tissue, a healed infection or an irritant from the air.

But for a small number of people, a nodule is an early lung cancer.

Cancer is more likely if you:

But even if you have a higher risk of lung cancer, most small nodules aren't lung cancer. And if a nodule turns out to be lung cancer, it's likely to be an early-stage lung cancer and therefore curable.

Diagnosing lung nodules

Let your healthcare provider know if you've ever had a chest X-ray or CT scan in the past. It's very useful to know if your nodule is the same size as it was on past imaging.

To help decide the cause of a nodule your doctor will:

Following up lung nodules

For most nodules, your doctor will recommend getting more CT scans in the future to see if the nodule changes over time. This is called active surveillance.

If a nodule is not cancer, it usually will not grow bigger. If the nodule doesn't grow over a two-year period, it's very unlikely to be cancer.

If the nodule is getting bigger, it needs to be looked at more closely to see if it's lung cancer. This will be done using different types of scans or by taking a sample (biopsy) with a needle or surgery.

Getting help with lung nodules

Contact your general practice team if you:

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Page created September 2022.


Page reference: 1032087

Review key: HILNO-1032087