What Are Lung Nodules?

lung disorder treatment Pulmonary Associates of RichmondLung nodules are round or ovular growths in the lungs. Doctors sometimes refer to them as a “coin lesion” or, a “spot”. Growths of this nature must be smaller than 3 centimeters (about 1.2 inches) to qualify as a nodule. Growths larger than 3 centimeters are classified as a pulmonary mass, and they generally run a higher risk of being malignant. 

Nodules are fairly common, with solitary nodules showing up in roughly 0.2% of all chest x-rays, and almost half of all chest CT scans. That said, the majority of these growths are benign. They don’t usually carry symptoms and can go undetected until a patient has a chest x-ray or CT scan. If any symptoms are present, they are related to the condition that caused the nodule, and not the nodule itself. 

Benign nodules are caused by a variety of factors, including:

  • Infection
  • Noncancerous tumors
  • Noninfectious inflammation

While most nodules are benign in nature, some can develop as a result of a more serious condition such as lung cancer, lymphoma, or cancer that has spread to the lung from another body part. It is important to identify whether a nodule is benign or malignant early so a proper course of treatment can be taken.

Diagnosing A Lung Nodule

When a patient shows signs of a respiratory illness or infection, a pulmonologist will order an x-ray or CT scan of the lungs. Pulmonary nodules show up on chest x-rays as a round shadowed mass in the lungs. CT scans show nodules in greater detail and are better able to give a doctor pertinent information, including location, size, shape, and internal density. 

Larger nodules tend to be at higher risk of being malignant than smaller nodules. If there is a chance that a larger nodule is malignant, the doctor may request a biopsy. A biopsy is a procedure in which a small amount of tissue is removed from the mass, either with a needle or tools used during a bronchoscopy.  A bronchoscopy involves inserting a thin tube-like camera into the bronchial pathway through the nose or the throat. 

Tissue obtained during a biopsy is then sent to a laboratory. There, a pathologist will observe it through a microscope to look for the presence of cancerous cells. Biopsies aren’t typically performed on small nodules due to increased risk of complications such as lung collapse or bleeding.


When a nodule is determined to possess a low risk of being cancerous, the next course of action is often to wait and see. A pulmonologist will order a repeated series of CT scans to observe any changes in the nodule, such as growth or increase in density. If there is an underlying infection or condition that caused the nodule, it will be treated accordingly.  If a nodule does not grow or change within a two-year period, it will be labeled as noncancerous or benign, and the pulmonologist will let the patient know that further tests may not be necessary. 

For nodules that are found to be cancerous, the next step depends on the type and stage of the cancer. Often, the doctor will recommend the removal of the nodule through a thoracotomy, in which a surgeon makes an incision into the chest cavity near the lungs to remove the nodule.


Lung nodules are often benign. If found early, their underlying causes can be detected and treated. Nodules themselves don’t tend to be harmful, but they are instead an indication of another condition. They are also fairly common, so diagnosing and treating them is often a simple matter.

At Pulmonary Associates of Richmond, your lung health is our priority. If you are experiencing any type of respiratory symptoms that cause concern, contact us at (804) 320-4243. Our team of providers are dedicated to diagnosing and treating your lung issues.