Pulmonary nodules are small, round growths located in the lungs. Nodules are smaller than three centimeters in diameter, look like spots on X-ray, and can be found on 0.2% of all chest x-ray films. Since nodular masses larger than this are considered tumors, measuring the size of the nodule can help doctors determine whether the growth might pose the threat of cancer.
Although approximately 90% of pulmonary nodules are noncancerous or benign, nearly all of the remaining 10% are cancerous or malignant.
Pulmonary nodules may be the result of an infection, scar tissue, pulmonary disease, or cancer. There are two primary kinds of pulmonary nodules: malignant (cancerous) and benign (noncancerous).
90% of nodules are benign
When an infection or illness inflames lung tissue, a small clump of cells (granuloma) can form
Lung nodules do not come with noticeable symptoms
Lung nodules show up on at least one out of every 500 x-rays
Both malignant and benign pulmonary nodules are usually diagnosed by administering an X-ray or a CT scan. Less commonly referred to as computed tomography, these scans can be understood as a digitized method of obtaining X-ray images. Once X-ray photos or CT “slices” have been taken, a doctor assesses the visuals to determine the size, mineral composition, and threat level of the pulmonary growths.
Based on these findings, the patient and their health care provider will then discuss next steps for treatment, preventive measures, and surgery, if necessary
There are typically no symptoms associated with pulmonary nodules, so you may not know you have one until a CT scan is conducted. If you do have a pulmonary nodule, we may suggest a bronchoscopy. A bronchoscopy allows us to examine the air passages in your body with a small camera that is connected to a flexible tube. This device may also collect tissue samples from your lung that can be tested for disease. A bronchoscopy is quick, and patients are allowed to go home the same day as the procedure.
Benign pulmonary nodules may be caused by a number of factors, but in many cases the culprit is a disease or infection that has caused an inflammatory response. These diseases may be infectious or noninfectious. Mycobacterium, for example, is a group of infectious, disease-causing bacteria. The genus is responsible for the onset of conditions such as tuberculosis and leprosy. It is also a cause of benign pulmonary nodules. Rheumatoid arthritis, although a noninfectious condition, can also foreshadow the growth of pulmonary nodules. Regardless of the exact disease or bacterium, tissue inflammation of any kind can lead to what is known as a granuloma.
Malignant pulmonary nodules, as the name suggests, pose much more of a threat than their benign counterparts. When a pulmonary nodule measures at a size approaching or greater than 3 centimeters, it may be an early but serious sign of a cancerous tumor. Malignant pulmonary nodules and tumors can originate in the lungs themselves, or they may have spread to the lungs from other parts of the body in a process called metastasis.