About one in 500 chest x-rays and one in 100 CT scans of the chest will uncover a spot known as a lung nodule. Antonio Lassaletta, MD a thoracic surgeon with the Lung Nodule Evaluation Center at Tufts Medical Center, explains what they are and when they should be of concern.
What are lung nodules?
Dr. Lassaletta: Lung nodules are abnormal spots found on an imaging test like an x-ray or CT scan that are about an inch in diameter or less.
Are they cancerous?
Dr. Lassaletta: About 60 percent of lung nodules are not cancerous and may be associated with rheumatoid arthritis and other non-cancerous inflammatory conditions, respiratory infections or scarring from prior infections. Even if they are cancerous, lung nodules are relatively small and usually treatable or curable.
Who is at greatest risk for lung nodules?
Dr. Lassaletta: Not surprisingly, roughly half of people over age 50 who smoke will have nodules on a CT scan, but people can have them without ever smoking. Occupational exposure to chemicals or even second hand smoke can elevate your risk.
What are the symptoms?
Dr. Lassaletta: Most lung nodules do not cause symptoms as they are small. This is why screening patients at high risk for lung cancer is no important.
Is there a way to detect lung nodules early, when they are most treatable if cancerous?
Dr. Lassaletta: Screening for lung nodules and lung cancer with a low-dose screening CT scan has been shown to drastically reduce the chance of dying from lung cancer in high risk patients. Because smokers are at an increased risk, we do recommend a low-dose screening CT scan if you are:
- 55 years old or older and
- have smoked one pack of cigarettes per day on average for at least 30 years or
- have smoked two packs of cigarettes per day on average for at least 15 years or
- have other high-risk factors such as radon gas exposure, occupational exposures to known cancerous agents, or if you have had another type of cancer.
For information on lung cancer screening, call the Lung Nodule Evaluation Center at 617-636-6377