Lung nodules are typically found on a CT scan or x-ray of the chest. The imaging may well have been done for another reason entirely and the nodule may be a chance finding. In fact, lung nodules are very common, with up to half of adults who get chest X-rays or CT scans being found to have them.
It’s impossible to tell the difference between a small scar and very early lung cancer so follow-up scans and biopsies are necessary to make an accurate diagnosis.
Most commonly, a ‘watch and wait’ approach is recommended. A follow-up scan may be done after a period of a few months, or for very small nodules up to one year later. The follow-up scan will allow your consultant to determine if the nodule has remained the same, become smaller or disappeared, or grown.
If the nodule is unchanged or has become smaller it’s very likely that it’s benign and no further action is required. Sometimes one further scan is recommended to confirm this after another year.
If the nodule has grown, which is the least likely outcome, your consultant will recommend that further tests are performed.
In cases where a lung nodule turns out to be a small lung cancer, there is still an excellent chance of it being cured. This is because very small lung cancers usually have not spread and so can be completely cured, even after months of surveillance.
For some patients, with larger-sized lung nodules, doctors may instead recommend that further tests such as a lung biopsy are performed straight away.