Respiratory health Data Verified

Lung Mass - Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Published on Mar 08, 2022 and last reviewed on Mar 22, 2023   -  4 min read


A lung mass or growth can be due to many reasons. Read below to know how the diagnosis and treatment vary in different conditions.

Lung Mass - Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

What Is Lung Mass?

A lung mass is defined as an abnormal growth or spot in the lungs larger than 3 cm or 1.5 inches in size. They are seen in x-ray or CT (computed tomography) scans of the lungs. They are not uncommon. They look like small, round growths of tissue surrounded by normal tissue. They can be single or multiple. Spots that are smaller than 3 cm in diameter are considered lung nodules. The evaluation process is different in both these cases.

What Is the Etiology for a Lung Mass?

Research says that 4% to 5% percent of lung mass turns out to be cancerous. The chance that the abnormality may be cancerous is lower in a lung nodule than it is for a mass. However, not all masses in the lung are caused by cancer. There are various reasons why there is a growth in the lungs. They generally fall into two categories,

  • Benign growths (noncancerous).

  • Malignant growths (cancerous).


Benign growths are not life-threatening and will not spread to other parts of the body. Some can cause serious health complications and may need to be monitored over time. Some benign causes include,

  1. Benign Lung Tumors such as hamartomas. Hamartomas are made up of normal tissues but in abnormal amounts. They are mainly found in the outer portion of the lung's connective tissue. The rest are found inside the airways that lead to the lungs called bronchus.

  2. Lung Abscesses: They are pus-filled infections usually caused by bacteria.

  3. Arteriovenous Malformations are abnormal connections between the arteries and veins. It is usually present from birth.

  4. Lipoid Pneumonia.

  5. Fungal Infections such as coccidioidomycosis and blastomycosis.

  6. Parasitic Infections such as echinococcus (hydatid cysts).

  7. Pulmonary Artery Aneurysms.

  8. Amyloidosis: Buildup of abnormal proteins that becomes a mass and interferes with their normal function.

Malignant growths can be due to lung cancer, lymphomas, sarcomas, metastases, or the spread of cancers from other regions of the body to the lung. The different types of lung cancer include small cell carcinoma, non-small cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and adenocarcinoma. Some of the most common cancers that spread to the lungs are breast cancer, colon cancer, and bladder cancer. Diagnostic tests would determine the type of cancer.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms Associated With Lung Mass?

The signs and symptoms associated with lung mass include,

  1. Shortness of breath (breathing difficulty).

  2. Wheezing.

  3. Coughing for a long time.

  4. Coughing up blood.

  5. Fever.

  6. Rattling sound in the lungs.

How to Diagnose a Lung Mass?

The diagnosis and treatment also depend on the symptoms experienced by the patient, where the growth is in the lung, age, general health, and risk factors for developing lung cancer.

1. Imaging:

If the doctor has noted a lung mass on the chest x-ray, he will suggest a CT scan or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan to look at the mass more closely. They help define the size and location of the mass.

A PET (positron emission tomography) scan is an imaging study that detects increased metabolic activity associated with active growth. For example- a suspicious area that lights up in a PET scan can suggest metabolic activity in that area, possibly cancer.

2. Bronchoscopy:

The doctor may perform a bronchoscopy when the mass is in the central area of the lungs near the large airways to take a closer look at the mass. They pass a flexible tube through the mouth down into the bronchi. This test can look for abnormalities in and near the large airways, and a biopsy can be performed if needed.

3. Fine-Needle Biopsy:

A needle is inserted into the mass (usually taken from the outer region of the lungs) guided by a CT scan to take out a small amount of tissue or through a surgical incision. It is then studied under a microscope to find out the nature of the tissue.

4. Lung Surgery:

When it is difficult to get a sample of tissue mass with either a needle biopsy or a bronchoscopy, a thoracic surgery can be done to get the sample tissue.

The rate at which the mass has grown can give additional information on whether it is a benign or cancerous mass. Benign mass grows very slowly, and it is said that cancerous growth can double its size every four months or less. Moreover, benign nodules have higher calcium content and are smooth and regular shape. The malignant mass has irregular shapes, rougher surfaces, and color variations or speckled patterns.

How to Treat a Lung Mass?

The treatment for lung mass depends upon the underlying etiology.

If the lung mass is due to cancer, the treatment depends on whether it is a non-small cell lung cancer or a small cell lung cancer. Non-small cell lung cancer can be treated by surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, or a combination of these treatments. Small cell lung cancer will require radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

The doctors usually advise biopsy or surgery to remove the benign tumor if,

  • You are a smoker and have a high risk of cancer.

  • You have breathing difficulties.

  • Tests show that it could potentially be cancer.

  • The mass continues to grow.

Other less common causes of lung masses like infections will be treated according to the doctor's specific diagnosis.


A lung mass is most likely cancerous, but there are chances it could be non-cancerous also. This will need further evaluation to identify the exact nature of the lung mass, and appropriate treatment can help resolve the cause. A history of smoking or working in an environment with cancer-causing substances increases the chances that a tumor is a cancer. The available advanced treatments it has been shown to improvise in recent years. You shall opt for online consultation if you need prior guidance on the same.

Last reviewed at:
22 Mar 2023  -  4 min read




Comprehensive Medical Second Opinion.Submit your Case

Related Questions & Answers

Does tree in bud nodules in CT scan mean cancer?

Query: Hi doctor, My CT scan says defined streaky opacity with associated loss volume and clustered tree in bud nodules have developed in the anterior segment of the upper left lobe. The associated central bronchi are impacted. Without an obvious mass, although a small central lesion is not excluded. The ...  Read Full »

Lung Cancer - Types, Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Article Overview: Cancer that begins in the lungs, and is more commonly seen in people who smoke, is called lung cancer. Read about the types, causes, symptoms, and treatment. Read Article

Anshul Varshney
Anshul Varshney
Internal Medicine

Introduction: Cancer is a clinical condition characterized by the abnormal growth of cells at any particular area in the body. Lung cancer is a condition involving the lungs and is one of the main causes for causing death in the world. Chronic smokers are at risk of developing lung cancer, but even ...  Read Article

Can smoking cause clubbed nails?

Query: Hello doctor, I am a 23 year old male, who weighs 195 lbs and I am 5.10 feet tall. All of my fingers are clubbed. My nails have become wide and thick giving them an abnormal round appearance. The skin above my cuticles is slightly raised and red. My nails do not extend straight out, but they curve d...  Read Full »

Popular Articles Most Popular Articles

Do you have a question on Lung Mass or ?

Ask a Doctor Online

* guaranteed answer within 4 hours.

Disclaimer: No content published on this website is intended to be a substitute for professional medical diagnosis, advice or treatment by a trained physician. Seek advice from your physician or other qualified healthcare providers with questions you may have regarding your symptoms and medical condition for a complete medical diagnosis. Do not delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice because of something you have read on this website. Read our Editorial Process to know how we create content for health articles and queries.