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The diagnosis of a lung nodule is not the same as cancer, as in most cases, nodules are benign and, therefore, not life-threatening, especially when they are smaller than 30 mm in size.
However, in rarer cases, the presence of a lump can be an early sign of cancer in the lung or elsewhere in the body, so it is important to maintain a regular evaluation with imaging tests to evaluate growth and shape changes, starting treatment if necessary.
Lung cancer appears in only 5% of nodule cases and is more frequent in the elderly, people with a family history of cancer or smokers. This means that a young, non-smoking person with a small nodule has an almost non-existent risk of getting lung cancer, since even in the elderly, with larger nodules and smokers, the chances of developing cancer from the nodule are very low..
How to know if the lump is cancer
To know if a nodule is malignant, the pulmonologist usually orders other imaging tests, such as a CT scan or pet-scan, and, about 4 months later, repeats these tests to assess whether the nodule has grown or changed its shape and appearance.
Typically, benign nodules remain the same size and change little, whereas cancer nodules almost double in size and change greatly in shape, showing an irregular mass instead of a round mass, which is characteristic of benign pulmonary nodule.
Symptoms of Malignant Nodule
Lung nodules rarely cause any type of symptom, whether they are malignant or benign and, therefore, it is common that they are only discovered accidentally during routine examinations, such as an X-ray chest or CT scan.
However, some symptoms that can alert you to the presence of changes in the lungs, such as nodules, and which should be evaluated by a pulmonologist, include difficulty breathing, easy tiredness, chest pain and feeling short of breath.
What can cause a lump
The causes of lung nodules vary according to their type:
- Benign nodule: is usually the result of scarring on the lung caused by previous infections, such as pneumonia, or as a consequence of tuberculosis, for example;
- Malignant nodule: has the same causes as lung cancer and, therefore, is more common in smokers and in people frequently exposed to hazardous chemicals such as arsenic, asbestos or beryllium, for example.
In addition, the malignant nodule can also be caused by cancer elsewhere in the body, such as the stomach or intestine, and other tests, such as colonoscopy or endoscopy, may be necessary when there is a suspicion of cancer in these organs.
How the treatment is done
Treatment varies according to the type, and in the case of benign nodule, no type of treatment is usually recommended, only a constant evaluation with an X-ray per year, or every 2 years, to ensure that the nodule does not increase in size or change its characteristics.
In case the nodule may be malignant, the pulmonologist usually advises performing a small surgery to remove a piece of the nodule and analyze it in the laboratory, in order to confirm the presence of cancer cells. If the result is positive, it is usually necessary to have another major surgery. If the lump is small, only the lump can be removed, but if it is larger, it may be necessary to remove a portion of the lung. Check out all the treatment options for lung cancer cases.