Merck Manual

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Overview of Lung Tumors

By

Robert L. Keith

, MD, Division of Pulmonary Sciences and Critical Care Medicine, University of Colorado School of Medicine

Full review/revision Dec 2022
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Topic Resources

Lung tumors can be

All lung tumors require medical evaluation because even noncancerous tumors can cause problems if they grow and block breathing.

The treatment of lung tumors depends on whether they are cancerous or noncancerous.

Noncancerous lung tumors

Noncancerous lung tumors can be divided into those that occur in the

  • Trachea or bronchial tubes: Hamartomas (most common noncancerous lung tumors), bronchial cystadenomas, which grow in the main or smaller bronchi, myoblastomas, and papillomas

  • Lung tissue: Fibromas, hamartomas, leiomyomas, lipomas, neurofibromas, schwannomas, and sclerosing hemangiomas

Noncancerous tumors may be identified based on the types of cells that make up the tumor (such as smooth muscle, fat, or nerve cells). Hamartomas are unique in that they are composed of disorganized bits of mature tissues such as cartilage, fat, and muscle.

Some noncancerous masses in the lungs are caused not by a new growth of lung cells (neoplasm) but rather by inflammation due to an infection or to an immune disease, such as sarcoidosis Sarcoidosis Sarcoidosis is a disease in which abnormal collections of inflammatory cells (granulomas) form in many organs of the body. Sarcoidosis usually develops in people aged 20 to 40, most often people... read more Sarcoidosis .

Noncancerous tumors often cause no symptoms other than wheezing, coughing, or shortness of breath, particularly if they press on or block an airway or become large.

Most often, doctors unexpectedly diagnose a noncancerous lung tumor when a chest x-ray or other imaging test is done for another purpose.

Most noncancerous tumors are not treated, but some may need to be removed surgically to prevent the airway from becoming blocked.

Did You Know...

  • In a word like "carcinoma," the -oma ending on a word means a mass, growth, or tumor. The first part of the word refers to what the swelling or growth is made of. For example, a meningioma is a tumor that develops in the covering of the brain or spinal cord (the meninges). Many cancer names end in "-oma" but not all "-omas" are tumors. A hematoma is swelling caused by a collection of blood (heme).

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