An Unexpected Surprise: Incidental Diagnoses of Lung Cancer

Currently, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S., killing more than breast, colon and prostate cancers combined. That’s because lung cancer is what’s known as a “silent killer.” It typically shows no signs or symptoms until it has reached an advanced stage. This is partially due to the fact that the lungs themselves have no pain receptors. Therefore, they don’t feel pain, and pain is usually an indication that something is wrong. Consequently, the mass grows in the lung tissue often for years undetected.


In some cases, however, the disease is indirectly found when something else is amiss. A study published in the International Journal of Surgical Oncology concluded that incidental findings of lung cancer—even among nonsmokers—is not uncommon.

Of the 593 patients included in the study, 320 presented with no symptoms (asymptomatic) and were either being evaluated for another disease or were undergoing testing for a routine medical checkup. Among them, 230 (71.8 percent) were incidentally diagnosed using a chest X-ray and the remaining, with a computed tomography (CT) scan. The study also showed that patients who had the incidental cancer diagnosis had a higher change of survival because their cancers were both small and in earlier stages.

While the internet is riddled with evidence (both anecdotally by patients and research-driven) suggesting how easy it is to find unsuspected lung cancer, the bottom line is that early detection is key. This is especially true for those who are high risk for developing the disease (e.g., 55+ years old, smokers, etc.).

The Power of Early Detection

A low-dose CT scan—also known as an LDCT—is a highly sensitive diagnostic imaging procedure that is able to detect abnormalities in tissue as small as a grain of rice. This revolutionary test increases the chance of lung cancer survival by an astounding 20 percent and can prevent up to 12, 000 deaths in the U.S. each year.

A low-dose CT scan is noninvasive and takes less than 10 minutes to generate a complete image of the lungs. Many facilities across the nation now offer comprehensive lung cancer screenings that are likely covered by insurance due to their preventive nature.

Please note: An abnormal screening does not always indicate lung cancer, as there are other benign reasons for lung tissue growth. Hence, it is crucial to review any abnormal findings with an experienced specialist.

Consulting a Specialist

If you have recently had a scan, been diagnosed or need a second opinion, our team of specialists will help evaluate findings and devise a treatment plan that is right for you. 

As the pioneers of video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS), we have decades of experience in minimally invasive surgical treatment and can provide our patients with helpful information on their conditions. Thoracic Group surgeons work in collaboration with a team of specialists, including oncologists, pulmonologists, radiologists, pathologists and nurse navigators.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact Thoracic Group today.