A Quick Guide to the Noncalcified Lung Nodule

Most people start to worry when they are told they have a noncalcified lung nodule. You’ve got admit it really doesn’t sound like a good thing, especially when you know the word nodule means lump. The first thing anyone would think when told they have a lump on their lung is lung cancer.

To understand what a noncalcified lung nodule is, you need to have some preliminary information about lung cancer. Lung cancer starts out like most cancers with cells which are abnormal. Instead of dying because their DNA is damaged, they continue to grow on top of one another and they even spread into neighboring tissue. This is how cancer metastasizes or grows.

Calcified or noncalcified lung nodules are seen when you have a CT (computed tomography) scan. Calcified nodules are made up of very small bits of calcium and are usually benign or non-cancerous. A noncalcified lung nodule which increases in size may be malignant or cancerous.

When you have a noncalcified lung nodule that is very small, sometimes the doctors just want to watch it to see if it does grow. If it does grow, the next step would be to have a needle aspiration/biopsy performed. This is an outpatient procedure where you are given local anesthesia on the site and a needle is inserted to draw out a tiny piece of tissue from the nodule.

This sample is sent to a laboratory to be tested to see if it is cancer or not. Lung cancer most often first presents itself as a noncalcified lung nodule. But that doesn’t mean that every noncalcified lung nodule is cancerous. These can also be caused by inflammatory and infectious diseases or they can be scar tissue.

The definition of a noncalcified lung nodule is that it is a lesion up to 3 cm in size which is totally enveloped in lung tissue. The shape is spherical. If the size is greater than 3 cm, the nodule is considered a mass and not a lesion. The nodules are usually detected either incidentally from a scan that was ordered for a different disease or condition, or from specific cancer screenings.

Doctors deal with these pulmonary nodules in one of three ways. They take a “watch and see” attitude where they wait to see if it grows, while carefully monitoring it with follow-up CT scans. Your doctor could do a needle biopsy of the nodule and try to tell if it is cancerous by examining it under a microscope. The third choice is to go straight to surgery and remove the tumor.

If the nodule is cancerous, the lung surgery choice is the best method. But there are so many risks with lung surgery that no doctor wants to choose that option first. Watching the nodule to see if it grows is a popular method of diagnosing lung cancer because if the tumor is cancerous, it will keep quickly doubling in size.

The good news is that only around 12% of the people who have a noncalcified lung nodule test positive for cancer. However, the larger the mass, the better the chances are that it is cancerous.

A noncalcified lung nodule that is monitored for two year by CT and has no new growth is usually found to be stable and benign. While there is certainly no rule of thumb about which nodules become cancerous and which don’t, scientists have observed many patterns which appear in the watching and waiting mode.

If you have a lesion that is extremely fast growing or extremely slow growing, the chances are good it is not cancer. Most lung cancer tumors have compelling growth but not rapid growth. Although the waiting is tough, the wait and see method of diagnosing noncalcified lung nodules often has the results for which you had been hoping and praying.