Benign (non-cancerous) lung tumors are quite common.
Still, “You have a spot on your lung(s)” can be scary words to hear. Don’t despair — benign tumors are usually not dangerous.
Benign lung tumors don’t spread to other areas of your body. Generally, benign tumors grow slowly, but they can sometimes stop growing or may even shrink.
These tumors usually don’t require removal or treatment and aren’t life-threatening. While lung tumors may grow and press upon neighboring tissue, they won’t invade, eradicate, or replace them.
Before we dive in, let’s clarify some terms.
A tumor measuring an inch or less is called a nodule — this is smaller than a mass. If you have a nodule in your lungs, it’s called a pulmonary nodule. Your doctor might also refer to a nodule or mass as a neoplasm or lung nodule.
Some statistics about lung nodules and masses shows how common benign lung tumors are:
It’s important to know the anatomy of your lungs so you can understand where tumors, nodules, and masses may appear and what that might mean for your health.
There are several types of benign lung tumors, nodules, and masses, and they can be difficult to remember. We’ll go through them one at a time.
The most common benign lung nodule is called a hamartoma. Hamartomas are clumps of normal connective tissue (cartilage), fat, and muscle that measure less than 2 inches. They show up on imaging as round, white spots in your lungs.
Hamartomas account for about 75% of all benign lung tumors. Nearly 80% of this nodule type occur in your lung’s connective tissues while the remaining 20% show up on the inside of your bronchial tubes. More men than women develop hamartomas by a 2:1 margin.
Bronchial adenomas are also a common benign lung nodule. Adenomas grow in your bronchi), as well as in the mucus glands or ducts.
A less common benign tumor is a papilloma. It grows as a protrusion on the surface of your bronchial tubes. There are three kinds of papilloma:
Squamous cells are growths that develop as thin, flat cells on tissue surfaces. Squamous papillomas may occur in children or adults.
Far less common, glandular papillomas develop as a single nodule and in larger airways than a squamous papilloma. It indicates a small number of mixed squamous and glandular papillomas. They can potentially become lung cancer.
HPV (human papillomavirus) is not a tumor, but it can cause cervical cancer and lung cancer.
Other kinds of benign tumors include chondromas, fibromas, neurofibromas, and lipomas, which are all tumors of your cartilage, fibrous, or fatty tissues.
Not always. Because symptoms are so rare, more than 90% of lung nodules are found by accident during a routine check-up, a chest X-ray, or a CT scan you took for another reason.
But if you have symptoms, they could include:
Endobronchial ultrasound bronchoscopy (EBUS) uses a bronchoscope (a small flexible tube equipped with a camera) to examine and diagnose several lung conditions. A physician specializing in the respiratory system, or a pulmonologist, inserts the probe into your mouth, trachea, and lungs, often while you are under anesthesia.
Your healthcare team will then use other information about your nodule to determine if it’s benign. Here are some common indicators of benign lung nodules:
For this procedure, the technician inserts a thin needle into the abnormal tissue, guided by fluoroscopy or computed tomography.
Unless your benign tumor is so large it’s pressing against neighboring tissues or causes pain or disfigurement, your healthcare team is unlikely to recommend treatment.
If you have fibroid tumors or warts, your doctor will want to monitor them for growth or spread to be sure they aren’t pre-cancerous.
Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in American men and women, according to the American Cancer Society.
There are two types of lung cancer.
Malignant tumors in the lungs may need surgical intervention—a lobectomy (removal of a lung lobe) or a resection (surgical removal) of any surrounding tissue or lymph nodes that may be affected.
One way to improve your lung cancer treatment options is to detect it at an early stage.
Other lung diseases and conditions may cause scarring and lesions in the lungs:
Benign tumors in the lungs are relatively common and typically not an issue to be overly concerned about. Nevertheless, they can sometimes be a precursor to something more serious. In this case, early detection is cancer’s greatest weakness.
You can stay on top of your lung health by booking a regular annual full-body MRI, which includes a low-dose chest CT scan.