By Louis Neipris, M.D., Staff Writer, myOptumHealth
Each year about 150,000 people in the U.S. have a routine chest x-ray only to learn they have a lung nodule, or pulmonary nodule. After hearing those words it may seem that life revolves around that small spot on your lung. Most of the time, spots seen on x-ray are benign, or noncancerous, lung nodules.
What is a pulmonary nodule?
A lung nodule is a small mass of tissue that may be seen on a chest x-ray. Your doctor may call it a solitary pulmonary nodule. Most do not cause symptoms. Most are not cancer, but are benign growths often caused by infections or the scars left by past infections.
Some, though, may be early-stage cancer. The chance a nodule is cancerous increases if you have a history of smoking or other risk factors for lung cancer.
Your doctor will compare any earlier chest imaging studies (x-ray or CT scans) with the most recent one to see if the nodule was present before and whether it has grown or changed in any way. If the nodule has changed in shape or size, more tests will likely be needed to see if it is cancer.
Your options: observe or have further testing
This important choice may seem like a decision that your doctor should make. But in some cases, there may not be a clear-cut answer about how to go forward. You will need to take part in this very important decision. You may need to balance the pros and cons of whether to monitor the nodule for a period of time with x-ray studies or have further tests.
Other reasons to observe:
A biopsy is a test in which a sample of tissue is removed and sent to the lab for examination. A lung biopsy can be done by:
Observing: pros and cons
Biopsy: pros and cons
What is important to me?
Other things to consider:
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