Penn Lung Center

Lung Nodule Program

Preventative Screening of Lung Nodules

Every year, more than 150,000 patients are diagnosed with pulmonary nodules. These nodules are usually found incidentally in otherwise healthy patients without symptoms of cough, bloody mucus, or unexplained weight loss.

These round or oval nodules are defined as lung lesions smaller than one centimeter, with clearly defined borders. While more than 90 percent are harmless, a small number of these nodules may represent a very early lung tumor.

The presence of indeterminate pulmonary nodules can cause an anxiety and stress for patients, so rather than performing surgery only to discover a lesion is benign, patients can now be evaluated, carefully monitored and treated through the Penn Medicine Lung Nodule Program. Studies show that careful surveillance can eliminate unnecessary surgery and diagnose lung cancer at a curable stage.

Penn's Lung Nodule Program is one of only a handful of programs in the country and the first in the Philadelphia region. The program is designed to help address the growing number of patients being diagnosed with tiny round- or oval-shaped lesions or nodule on or in their lungs.

The goal of the lung nodule program is two-fold:

  • Save patients from unnecessary surgery
  • Catch lung cancer early when it is most treatable

Penn's Lung Nodule Program is staffed by a multidisciplinary team of thoracic surgeons, medical oncologists, thoracic radiologists and advanced practice nurses. Patients receive an initial consultation with a Penn thoracic surgeon who may then refer them to the lung nodule program.

Who is a Candidate for the Lung Nodule Program?

Patients may be candidates for the lung nodule program if they have been diagnosed with a small, incidental lung nodule found on a chest X-ray or full-body CT scan.

The lung nodule program evaluates patients within a week of referral. The appointment includes:

  • A baseline CT scan
  • Expert interpretation by the chest radiologists from the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania's division of thoracic imaging
  • Examination by a Penn thoracic surgeon

The surgeon and advanced practice nurse develop individualized care plans and schedule follow-up scans at regular intervals over the next two years. Patients receive an appointment reminder for subsequent multidetector CT exams at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. These serial CT scan studies provide the team with precise indications of changes in the nodule.

Patient Benefits

Patient benefits of the lung nodule program include:

  • Elimination of unnecessary surgery due to close monitoring of nodules
  • Improved treatment outcomes. Thorough follow-up every three to six months allows physicians to detect any change in the nodule and plan appropriate early intervention for suspected cancer
  • Reduced anxiety due to close monitoring by the specialized chest radiologists at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania
  • Care from advanced practice nurses who are experts in thoracic (chest) diseases