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Lung Nodules

< Lung and Esophageal Cancers

Lung Nodules

About Lung Nodules

Commonly called a “spot on the lung” or a “shadow,” a nodule is a round area that is more solid than normal lung tissue. It shows up as a white spot on a CT scan. Lung nodules are usually caused by scar tissue, a healed infection that may never have made you sick, or some irritant in the air. Sometimes, a nodule can be an early lung cancer.

Even if a nodule turns out to be lung cancer, it is likely to be an early stage lung cancer. People with early stage lung cancer that is treated are less likely to die of lung cancer than people who are diagnosed at a later stage when the cancer has started to cause symptoms.


In general, small nodules don’t cause any noticeable problems. They’re too small to cause pain or breathing problems.

Risk Factors

Fewer than 5% of all nodules turn out to be cancer. Cancer is more likely in patients who:

  • Are older
  • Have a larger nodule
  • Have other cancer risks, such as lung cancer in your family or handling asbestos in the past
  • Smoked or still smoke cigarettes

For example, a small nodule in a young person who never smoked is less likely to be cancer than a larger nodule in an older person who recently quit smoking. However, even in the person with a high risk of lung cancer, most small nodules are not lung cancer. If you would like an estimate of how likely it is that your nodule is lung cancer, please contact your provider.