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Lung nodule program

Comprehensive care for detecting, evaluating, monitoring and treating people with lung nodules

Lung nodules are abnormal spots in the lung tissue. Although most lung nodules found are not cancer, they are often tested to find out if cancer is present. The Allina Health Lung Nodule Program cares for people who have had a chest X-ray or computed tomography (CT) scan that shows a nodule in the lung. The goal of this program is to determine whether the nodule is cancerous, and if it is, to manage and treat the lung cancer. 

At Allina Health, you’ll receive lung nodule care in one convenient location from a team of specialists who consider your entire wellbeing (body, mind and soul).  This lung nodule treatment team includes specialists such as pulmonologists, oncologists, radiologists and thoracic surgeons with your care overseen by a nurse navigator. 

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Diagnosis of nodules in the lungs

Lung nodules are found on a chest X-ray or CT scan. Nodules are often found when a person has an annual lung cancer screening, which is recommended for people at high risk. Lung nodules can also be found during routine exams or tests for other conditions. 

When a lung nodule is found, your team may do additional tests to determine if the nodules are cancerous. These tests may include additional chest CT scans, positron emission tomography and computed tomography (PET-CT) scans and a biopsy. A lung biopsy is when a sample of the lung nodule is taken to examine it for abnormal cells. It can be done in one of the following ways: 

  • Needle biopsy: This is when a needle is inserted through the chest to collect a sample.  

  • Bronchoscopy: This is when a flexible, lighted tube is inserted through your nose or mouth and into your lungs. 

  • Bronchoscopy with endobronchial ultrasound (EBUS): This is when ultrasound is used to look at lymph nodes that surround your bronchial tubes. 

  • Bronchoscopy with electromagnetic navigation: This is when special sensors are used to look at an area of your lungs that cannot be reached by a regular bronchoscope. 

  • Mediastinoscopy: This is when a tissue sample taken through an incision made at the top of the breastbone. 

There are two main types of lung cancer:  non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC). Of these, NSCLC is more common, but SCLC grows and spreads faster. 

Lung cancer nodule treatment options

When you meet with your lung nodule treatment team, they will go over your test results with you and work closely with you to develop a treatment plan. This treatment plan will be tailored to your individual diagnosis and preferences and will take your overall health into consideration. 

Nodules that are not cancerous typically do not change or grow. Cancerous (malignant) nodules will grow and change. For this reason, if you are not at high risk for developing lung cancer and your nodule is small, your doctor may continue to observe it. This will mean having CT scans every 6–12 months to monitor the nodule for growth or other changes. If the nodule does not change over time, no other treatment is needed. 

If your nodule is cancerous, your health care team will recommend lung cancer treatment. This treatment will depend on the type of lung cancer you have and how far it has progressed. The most common type of treatment for lung cancer is surgery, along with radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Learn how Allina Health approaches lung cancer care and treatment

How to prepare for your first visit

Your first visit at our Lung Nodule Program will be with a lung specialist. It is important to be ready to talk about your medical history, and to bring with you a list of your current medicines and a friend or family member for support. During this appointment, you may have many questions. Feel free to ask them. These may include questions such as: 

  • Why do I have nodules in my lungs? 

  • Do I have lung cancer? 

  • Will I have more tests? 

  • How will you treat my lung nodules? 

  • Will my lung nodules or their treatment affect my daily life? 

  • What support resources are available to help me? 

  • Whom should I call if I have questions after I leave the office? 

Insurance coverage

It is important to understand that your insurance plan may or may not cover all of your testing and treatment. Coverage will depend on your individual plan. Call your insurance provider before your first appointment to find out what is covered. You will be responsible for paying for anything that is not covered under your plan. 

If you have any questions about your health insurance coverage, contact your health insurance provider. You can do this by calling the number on your membership card. 

Are lung nodules common?

Yes, lung nodules are common. They are found in about half of all adults who have a chest X-ray or CT scan. Most lung nodules that are found are not cancerous. 

What causes lung nodules?

Most lung nodules are caused by scar tissue from conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and   sarcoidosis as well as inflammation and abscesses that happened with old infections. They can also be caused by exposure to fungus and other air pollutants. In some cases, the cause is unknown.  

When lung nodules are cancerous, it is most often caused by a history of heavy smoking. Exposure to lung irritants, such as radon and asbestos, can also cause cancer. To be sure a lung nodule is cancerous, additional tests will need to be done. 

What are the symptoms of nodules on the lungs?

Small nodules on the lungs usually do not cause symptoms. It is only when the nodules are large that pain or problems with breathing happen. Large nodules are most often associated with lung cancer. 

Related links

Source: Allina Health Cancer Institute
Reviewed by: Allina Health Cancer Institute

First published: 6/3/2019
Last reviewed: 10/6/2021

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