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Lung Nodules: Causes, Symptoms, and More

Lung Nodules: Causes, Symptoms, and More

Lung nodules also called as ‘spot on the lung’ or ‘coin lesion’ are a growth in the lungs that can be cancerous or non-cancerous. The size of the growth is usually 3 centimeters, when it grows beyond 3 cm it is called pulmonary mass.

It increases your risk of developing lung cancer. In non-cancerous lung nodules, there will be no growth in the tissue. While a cancerous one may grow in different shapes and sizes. You are more likely to develop cancerous lung nodules if you are a smoker or a senior citizen. Read on to know more about the causes and symptoms of lung nodules.

Causes of lung nodules

Even though lung nodules are common, the thought of having any growth in the lungs can be stressful. Lung nodules can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

The most common causes of the condition are infection or inflammation.

The cause of cancerous lung nodules includes lung cancer or cancer that has spread to the lungs from other parts of the body. While the cause of non-cancerous lung nodules includes an infection or swelling in the lungs. The malignant nodules require early diagnosis and immediate treatments.

Inflammation in the lungs can be a result of fungal or bacterial infections. These infections include tuberculosis, histoplasmosis, aspergillosis, blastomycosis, etc.

While nodules can also be caused because of non-infectious inflammation. Health conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and sarcoidosis that are not linked to an infection can also cause lung nodules. Neoplasms can also cause cancerous lung nodules.

You are more at the risk of developing cancerous lung nodules if you are above 60 years of age or have a history of lung cancer or any lung ailments. Other possible risk factors include a family history of the condition or if you are a smoker.

Symptoms of lung nodules

There are no signs and symptoms of lung nodules. The growth in the lungs can be so small that it does not cause any issues with breathing. Usually, it’s an incidental finding when one has their x-ray taken.

If the lung nodule is cancerous, the patient may have symptoms such as:

  • difficulty in breathing
  • pain in the chest
  • blood-tinged phlegm
  • sudden weight loss
  • back pain or discomfort

In most cases, an X-ray of the chest or CT scan done becomes a finding that helps in diagnosis.

lung nodules

Diagnosis and treatments

If you have any symptoms of respiratory illness, your doctor may recommend doing an X-ray of the chest or a CT scan.

The condition is visible as a small spot in the X-ray reports. If your doctor suspects the spot as being a nodule, he/she may recommend an imaging test that will help to get a clear picture and more details of the condition.

After the finding of a lung nodule, your doctor may recommend you a suitable treatment. The treatment is based on a number of factors like the shape, size, and type of lung nodule. These factors are also helpful to diagnose if the lung nodule is cancerous or non-cancerous.

In addition to the tests, your doctor may also do a physical examination and check if you are a smoker or have any medical condition.

Treatment

If you have a noncancerous nodule, your doctor may not begin treatment immediately, but advise you to monitor the condition for a brief period. In this type of treatment, your doctor may ask you to monitor the nodule by doing CT scans at regular intervals.

Doctors may also request other tests to rule out other conditions such as tuberculosis so treatment is also on point.

The CT scans will help to diagnose if there are any changes in the nodule. If there are no changes in the shape and size of the nodule for at least two years, it is an indication of the nodule being non-cancerous.

If there are any changes in the shape or size of the nodule owing to any infection or inflammation, your doctor may recommend you undergo the appropriate treatment. The main cause of the lung nodule turning cancerous is mostly because of lung cancer or cancer in the nearby organs that has spread to the lungs.

If the nodule is developed because of cancer in another organ that has now spread to the lungs, then the treatment option might depend on the original cancer.

Surgery

Based on the severity of the case, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove the cancerous nodule. Thoracotomy is the surgery that is used for the removal of nodules. Thoracotomy can be done in two types – open lung surgery and video-assisted thoracoscopy.

In open lung surgery, the cancerous tissue is removed by making an incision in the wall of your chest. In video-assisted thoracoscopy, a small tube with a camera on one end is inserted into the chest wall via a small incision.

The surgeon will monitor the images on the screen. With the help of another small incision, the cancerous cells are removed. This type of surgery is safe and even recovery time is less. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are other treatment options for a lung nodule.

Prevention of lung ailments

Quit smoking

Smoking is the main cause of a number of lung ailments. Quitting smoking may help to prevent not just lung nodules but also other lung ailments.

Tobacco smoke contains chemicals that are harmful to your lung health. If you are a smoker, you must quit smoking immediately. Talk to your doctor about ways you can get rid of smoking. If you have no history of smoking, then you are at less risk of getting lung ailments. However, that does not mean you will never get any lung ailments.

Not just smokers, even second-hand smokers are at the risk of developing lung ailments. Hence, it is important to quit smoking and avoid second-hand smoking.

Avoid exposure to harmful substances

Exposure to certain harmful chemicals also increases your risk of developing lung ailments. If your job involves getting exposed to harmful substances and chemicals, talk to your doctor about ways to prevent lung ailments.

Learn more about lung cancer here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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Written by Nikita Bhalla Updated Nov 09, 2021
Medically reviewed by Alaga Health