As more people at high risk for lung cancer are screened for the disease, many will discover they have lung nodules. Depending on the size and shape of the nodule, some will be monitored over time and some may need further testing.
Finding out there is a nodule in your lung can make some people anxious. Most nodules are not and do not turn into lung cancer but it can be anxiety provoking to know something is there. And when a nodule needs further testing, it may turn out to be a “false positive.”
In fact, about 15% of people who are screened will need additional imaging or testing to rule out cancer. For those, in the end the nodule is not lung cancer but the time it takes to find out can be filled with anxiety.
It’s important to note that everyone is different and not everyone feels particularly anxious if something is found in their lung. Some people are naturally more anxious and having a nodule found can add to that. For others, it’s a relief to know that their nodule is being monitored or investigated by their medical team.
Other things to keep in mind:
- The 15% false positive rate for lung cancer. There is a 50% false positive rate for mammograms over ten years. That means that in the course of getting mammograms for ten years, half of the women screened will need to undergo further imaging or testing to rule out breast cancer.
- There is new evidence about anxiety related to screenings for both lung and breast cancers. Two studies published within two months of each other reached the same conclusion on the effect of false positives in breast and lung cancer screenings: They resulted in no long term anxiety or lower quality of life.
If your scan found something that needs to be watched or tested and you feel anxious about it, here are some things to make sure your doctor does which may help lessen your anxiety.
- Lay out the follow up plan, including the timing of tests or appointments you will need throughout that period.
- Help you to understand what your risk of having lung cancer actually is.
Screening for those at high risk for lung cancer is incredibly important. It is equally important to follow through and continue the screening process. Most people who are screened will not have lung cancer but if it turns out you do, or if you have questions about nodules or the screening process, call our toll-free HelpLine at 1-800-298-2436. We are here to help.
Maureen Rigney, LCSW
Director, Community and Support Services