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Five things you should know about lung nodules

University of Minnesota Health Thoracic Surgeon Rafael Andrade, MD, helps demystify lung nodules.
Thoracic Surgeon Rafael Andrade, MD (center), said lung nodulces are often caused by a small growth in the lung, or a reaction of the lung to inflammation or infection. Not all are malignant, or cancerous, but some must be monitored.
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Receiving news that there is a “suspicious spot” in your lung can be alarming, but before you begin typing “cancer” into your Google search field, you might be surprised to learn the majority growths in the lungs are not cancerous.

We asked University of Minnesota Health Thoracic Surgeon Rafael Andrade, MD, for information to help demystify lung nodules. Read more to learn more about lung nodules and to understand how he and his University of Minnesota Health colleagues collaborate to treat patients.

Lung nodules are relatively common.
A lung nodule may sound scary, but it’s really a fancy word for a “spot in the lung,” Andrade said. They are often caused by a small growth in the lung, or a reaction of the lung to inflammation or infection. They are frequently identified with an X-ray or CT scan. Lung nodules are spots ranging between .2 inches and 1.2 inches and are relatively common—in many cases a lung nodule turns out to be benign, or non-cancerous.

Lung nodules are likely to be benign in the following circumstances, Andrade said:

  • The patient is younger than 40 years of age.
  • The patient does not smoke.
  • The nodule is small.

Usually, lung nodules are not associated with any symptoms.
Typically, lung nodules are not associated with any symptoms, which is why doctors almost always discover them accidentally during a chest X-ray or CT scan. If a patient experiences symptoms, they are likely due to the condition that led to the development of the lung nodule. Some symptoms that may lead to a chest X-ray or CT scan include:

  • Wheezing
  • Prolonged coughing
  • Coughing up blood
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fever
  • Pneumonia

Learn more about our lung care services at University of Minnesota Medical Center

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Cancerous nodules typically grow or change appearance quickly.
Most lung nodules are not cancerous, or malignant. However, your doctor may suspect a lung nodule is cancerous if it grows quickly, or has ridged edges. Even if your doctor believes the nodule is benign or non-cancerous, he or she may order follow-up chest scans for some time to monitor the nodule and identify any changes in size, shape or appearance.

Additional testing helps determine the cause of a lung nodule.
Your doctor may order additional tests on a suspicious lung nodule to determine the cause of the nodule. These tests may include a CT scan, positron emission tomography (PET) scan, a needle biopsy or a bronchoscopy. If test results are inconclusive, your doctor may recommend removal of the lung nodule if it has certain characteristics to ensure safety.

Our specialists collaborate to treat lung nodules.
To help determine the best treatment plan for a patient with lung nodules, Andrade works with a team of caregivers including pulmonologists, thoracic surgeons, specialized chest radiologists, interventional radiologists and nurses. Together, this team reviews nearly every University of Minnesota Health patient who has lung nodules to determine the appropriate course of treatment.

This collaborative approach to treatment means the patient has multiple advocates working together to determine what steps need to be taken to ensure nothing is missed while monitoring or treating the nodules.

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