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Lung Mass - Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

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Lung Mass - Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

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.

Written by

Dr. Sowmiya D

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar

Published At March 8, 2022
Reviewed AtMarch 22, 2023

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.

Frequently Asked Questions


What Is the Meaning of a Lung Mass?

An abnormal growth in the lungs that is larger than three centimeters in diameter is known as a lung mass. A lung nodule is defined as anything smaller than this. There are benign (non-cancerous) and malignant (cancerous) types of lung masses.


Can a Mass in the Lungs Be Removed?

A portion or entire lung may be removed during lung cancer surgery. A wedge resection is an operation to remove lung cancer and a small amount of healthy tissue. Segmental resection is the process of removing a significant portion of the lung.


When should People worry about lung mass?

However, if a lung nodule grows rapidly or has ridged edges, the doctor may think it is cancerous. If the doctor thinks the nodule is benign or not cancerous, they may order follow-up chest scans to monitor it and see if its size, shape, or appearance has changed.


What Identifies a Cancerous Lung Mass?

A relatively new nuclear medicine method called a PET scan might be beneficial in assessing and determining the stage of a lung mass. Most of the time, a lung mass that "lights up" on the PET scan is lung cancer. However, it is unlikely that the mass is cancerous if it does not appear on the PET scan.


Do Lung Masses are Common?

They occur frequently. The majority of lung nodules are wounding from previous infections. Typically, lung nodules do not cause symptoms. However, on a chest X-ray or CT scan done for another reason, they are frequently discovered by accident.


How Much of the Lung Mass Is Cancerous?

The majority of lung nodules are either benign or not cancerous. For example, less than 5% of 100 lung nodules, or three or four, become cancerous.


Is a Lump in the Lungs a Tumor?

A lung nodule can be cancerous. However, most lung nodules are not cancerous. Small clusters of cells in the lungs are called lung nodules. They occur frequently.


What Are the Signs That a Lung Tumor Is Growing?

If lung cancer metastasizes and obstructs the main airways, patients may encounter difficulties in breathing, resulting in shortness of breath. Additionally, fluid can build up around the lungs from lung cancer, making it harder for the affected lung to expand when people inhale fully. Bleeding from a cough.


How Quickly Do Lung Masses Expand?

If anything, there needs to be more change or growth. Cancerous pulmonary nodules, on the other hand, are known to expand rapidly; they typically double in size every four months, but they can develop as quickly as every 25 days.


Are Lung Tumors Quick-Growing?

Smoking accounts for nearly all cases of small-cell lung cancer. It is a cancer that proliferates and spreads much faster than other lung cancers. Small cell lung cancer comes in two varieties: Oat cell carcinoma or small cell carcinoma; The majority of small cell lung cancers are caused by oat cells.


Is It Possible to Live With a Lung Tumor?

The overall 5-year survival rate for individuals with localized NSCLC, which indicates that cancer has not spread beyond the lungs, is 63%. The 5-year survival rate for regional NSCLC, which suggests that cancer has spread outside the lung to nearby lymph nodes, is approximately 35%.


Does the Lung Mass Hurt?

People may experience pain in their chest when a lung tumor presses on nerves or tightens the chest, primarily when they breathe deeply, cough, or laugh.


How Quickly Can a Lung Tumor Be Removed?

The average time for open lung surgery is between two and six hours.


Can Tumors in the Lungs Shrink?

Unlike malignant tumors, benign lung tumors are noncancerous and do not spread to other parts of the body. Instead, they grow slowly or even shrink or stop growing.


Can a Cancerous Lung Be Removed?

A portion or entire lung may be removed during lung cancer surgery. A wedge resection is an operation to remove lung cancer and a small amount of healthy tissue. Segmental resection is the process of removing a more significant portion of the lung.
Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar
Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar

Pulmonology (Asthma Doctors)


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