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What Does a White Spot on My Lung X-Ray Mean?

Spot on the Lung: Causes, Symptoms and Diagnoses

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Dayton Respiratory Center

Aug 05 2022

5 mins read

Your doctor looks at your recent chest X-ray and informs you of a spot on your lungs.

This information might make you feel anxious. You may be asking, what does this mean? But, try not to worry. Most of the time, a white spot on your lungs isn't a cause for concern, especially if you're a nonsmoker.

The spot you see on your X-ray is called lung nodule. About 60% of lung nodules seen on chest X-rays are benign or harmless.

Let's dive deeper to discuss lung nodules and consider when to pay closer attention to them.

What Do You Mean by Spot on the Lungs?

A spot on your lungs is a small round growth called a lung nodule. It may show up as a white spot on an X-ray or CT scan.

A nodule can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Most lung nodules seen on X-rays are benign, so you probably don't need to worry.

Lung nodules are typically less than 3cm in diameter. If the nodules are less than 1cm in diameter, they are most likely benign. If the lesions are more than 3cm in diameter, they are called lung masses.

Lung Nodule in an X-ray|Source: ATS

Causes of Lung Nodules

Lung nodules can develop as a result of inflammation in the lungs due to an infection, illness or even cancer. They might be caused by previous infections, scars, or other reasons.

Other possible causes of lung nodules include:

  • Granulomas — a small clump of cells that develop after a lung inflammation. Sometimes, these granulomas can calcify — harden by calcium deposits — in the lungs, developing into non-cancerous nodules.
  • Mycobacterial infections — Pulmonary tuberculosis or similar lung infections
  • Neoplasm — abnormal growth of cells that can either be benign or cancerous.
  • Autoimmune diseases — like rheumatoid arthritis and sarcoidosis can develop noncancerous lung nodules.
  • Fungal infections — like valley disease or histoplasmosis
  • Cancerous tumors — originate in the lungs or spread from other organs (metastasis).

‎If you believe you have a lung nodule, you should always consult a professional. Your doctor can diagnose your lung nodule's actual cause and determine whether it's benign or malignant.

Symptoms of Lung Nodules

If your lung nodule is small, you may not experience any symptoms. Oftentimes, nodules are discovered by accident when patients undergo X-rays or CT scans to diagnose other illnesses.

However, if you have any of the following symptoms, it may be a sign that you have a lung nodule:

  • Chronic cough or coughing with blood
  • Chest pain
  • Wheezing or hoarseness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness
  • Frequent respiratory illness
  • Weight loss

Is My Lung Nodule Cancerous?

In most situations, a small lump is likely harmless and non-cancerous. However, in some cases, your doctor might recommend testing to confirm the diagnosis.

For example, your lung nodule might be cancerous if it:

  • Is large or continues to grow over a period of 2 years
  • Has a rough appearance (contains spikes)

In addition, you are at a higher risk of having a cancerous nodule if you:

  • Currently smoke or have smoked in the past
  • Have a family history of lung cancer
  • Have COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)
  • Are above 60 years old
  • Have undergone radiation therapy to the chest
  • Have been exposed to air irritants like asbestos, radon, or second-hand smoke

How Is A Cancerous Lung Nodule Diagnosed?

If your X-ray shows a spot on your lungs, your doctor will ask you about your medical history and if you smoke cigarettes. They will also do a physical examination.

If the spot is small, your doctor might recommend a CT scan to get a clearer picture. A CT scan can detect nodules less than 1cm in diameter. If your CT scan shows a nodule, your doctor may want to monitor it for the next 6 to 12 months to see if it changes in size. You might need to repeat the CT scan as directed by your physician.

Your nodule is most likely benign if it doesn't grow over the next two years.

However, if your lung nodule is big or it grows within 6 to 12 months, your doctor may recommend one of the following tests:

  • PET (Positron emission tomography) scan — an imaging technique that uses a radioactive drug.
    • Tracer, a radioactive glucose for cancer detection, differentiates between normal and cancer cells based on their metabolic or biochemical functions.
    • Since cancer cells take up more glucose, they can be easily detected.
  • Biopsy — a process of removing tissue or cell sample from the body for testing.
  • Bronchoscopy — a method to inspect the inside of a person’s lungs and conduct a biopsy.
    • A doctor will insert a thin tube (containing a camera at the end) through the nose or throat.
    • A doctor may also take a tissue sample (biopsy) by inserting brushes or forceps through the bronchoscope.

How Is Lung Nodule Treated

If your lung nodule is non-cancerous, it doesn't require any treatment unless there's an infection, in which case your doctor may prescribe antibiotics.

If your nodule is cancerous, your doctor will start your treatment. Cancer treatments involve radiation, chemotherapy and surgery. Your doctor might recommend one or more of these treatments based on the stage and type of your cancer.


A lung nodule or spot on your lung is usually not a cause for concern. In fact, most nodules are not cancerous.

Generally, the smaller the nodule, the less likely it is to be cancerous. But it's also important to pay attention to the location and shape when determining if a nodule is cancerous.

Early detection of a cancerous nodule can help your doctor determine an effective treatment plan. Early treatment improves your chances of getting rid of cancer.

Talk to your doctor or reach out to us if you feel anxious or concerned. We are here to help you.

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