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Diagnostic dilemmas

Is it lung cancer? Nodules in the lung, being diagnosed with a cancer that starts in another part of the body and spreads to the lungs or with a cancer of "unknown origin" can be confusing. This section can help you to understand. 

Learn about lung cancer diagnostic dilemmas

Pulmonary nodules

Many people have nodules in their lungs. Nodules under a certain size (8 to 10 mm) are too small to biopsy and are usually watched to see if they change or grow as those are indications it may be cancer. Understanding that doctors follow protocols when monitoring and evaluating pulmonary nodules may ease your mind if you have lung nodules that are being watched.  

Intermational Early Lung Cancer Action Program: Enrollment and screening protocol (International Early Lung Cancer Action Program)

Gould MK, et al. 2007. Evaluation of Patients With Pulmonary Nodules: When Is It Lung Cancer? ACCP Evidence-Based Clinical Practice Guidelines (2nd Edition). CHEST 132(3_suppl):108S-130S.

MacMahon, H., et al. 2005. Guidelines for management of small pulmonary nodules detected on CT scans: a statement from the Fleischner Society. Radiology 237(2):395-400.

Lung cancer vs. lung metastases

Cancer that has spread from another part of the body to the lungs is not lung cancer and may be treated very differently than cancer that begins in the lungs. Knowing if your cancer is a primary lung cancer (meaning it started in the lungs) or if it is another type of cancer that has spread to the lungs is vital to understanding your treatment options.

Metastatic Cancer (National Cancer Institute)

Metatastic Cancer to the Lung (Medline Plus)

Diseases of the lung: Lung metastases; Metastatic cancer to the lung (University of California Los Angeles Lung Cancer Program)

Cancer of unknown origin

Occasionally, it can be difficult to determine where in the body the cancer started.

Cancer - Unknown primary (American Cancer Society)

General information about carcinoma of unknown primary (National Cancer Institute)

Unknown primary (ASCO's Cancer.net)