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When it comes to a suspicious lesion on your Chest X-ray, a number of things can be flying through your head at once. Cancer is a possibility doctors will need to rule out but there are some other causes that are not as dangerous or lethal as cancer.

When it comes to any irregular on a medical imaging study, it can be quite alarming and stressful for patients to have to wait and see what could be the cause of this change. An immediate reaction is to automatically think that it is cancer but that is not always the case. There are some other common reasons that you could possibly have lesions appear on your chest X-ray. In this batch of articles, we will explore some of the possible reasons you may have suspicious densities on the lungs, what treatments could look like and the prognosis that you can expect. 

Are Suspicious Densities on Lungs a Sign of Cancer? 

When it comes to any lung density, unfortunately, usually the first thought that creeps into the doctor's head is going to be some type of lung cancer. This is not because lung cancer is the most common reason you will see suspicious densities on lungs, it is quite the contrary actually, but it is because of the severity of a diagnosis like lung cancer. It is a diagnosis that a doctor needs to make as quickly as possible in order to give the patient the best chance of survival [1]. 

Lung cancer is a very common form of cancer in the world and it is believed to be the cause of death of over 28 percent of cancer patients in the United States alone. The true prevalence of lung cancer is hard to determine due to the various levels of smoking throughout the world. In countries where it is common for people to smoke, there will also be higher levels of lung cancer. There are also numerous other factors that influence whether you will have lung cancer or not and they include factors like family history or person's occupation so people may even have lung cancer without ever picking up a cigarette. [2]

Without a doubt, though, smoking is a great way to increase your chances of developing lung cancer. Studies estimate the increased risk you are putting yourself is between 40 to 100 times more likely to get a disease compared to a patient who never smokes. Those odds don't look attractive at all no matter how you rationalize it. Therefore, the best way to avoid lung cancer is to stop smoking. This includes things like shisha (hookah pipes) and vaping as well, although the magnitude of the risk is not yet known. [3]

Can it be a Type of Lung Infection? 

Once cancer has been ruled out, there are numerous other and less severe pathologies that can cause suspicious densities on the lungs. These could range from fungal to bacterial to viral infections and depend a lot on the geographical location you are usually in.

Diseases like tuberculosis are able to produce nodules on your lungs and many people are infected with the disease without even realizing it. Tuberculosis is a disease that has two distinct stages, an active and a dormant phase. If you travel to a part of the globe that still has high cases of TB, like Eastern Europe, Asia, the Middle East or South America, you can become infected with the disease by just breathing the same air as a local infected with the disease [4]. You may not have any symptoms until you have some type of immune system weakness. At this point, the disease can switch from the dormant phase to the active stage and start to become bothersome. Treatment will be long and difficult because of the side effects of the drugs that you will have to take.

If you've just taken a deep breath and thought you were safe just by living in North America and never traveling abroad, I am about to burst your bubble. Even though we screen against TB often in the United States and Canada, people working in hospitals or inmates being housed in prisons are some of the most likely people to become infected with TB as well. Even if it is a miserable disease to deal with, it is still far better than lung cancer.[5]

Could it be from Toxins? 

The last potential broad category that I will highlight as a potential avenue for suspicious densities on the lungs that doctors need to consider when a patient presents with a strange X-ray would be some type of lung parenchymal disease. Before I lose you, the parenchyma of the lungs is the surface tissue. This is what is most susceptible to toxins that you may inhale. Numerous substances that we are around every day: asbestos, silicosis or coal dust. [6]

There is a price to pay for miners, builders or laborers when it comes to their health. Even if these jobs can be well-paid in some countries, the risks that you put yourself in just performing your job can be quite dangerous to your health. In some countries, governments even offer early retirement benefits to workers working for over a certain amount of time. You may make a lot of money but unfortunately, there is a trend in medicine where these types of workers typically only live into their 50s or 60s. Wearing masks is a helpful measure to try to help filter out some of the larger particles of dirty air you may be breathing but when it comes to fine particles too small to be filtered properly, you will be breathing that directly into your lungs. 

As you can see, there are numerous types of alternative diagnoses that can be made even if lung cancer may be the most worrisome. Depending on your history, the doctors may wait to see if the lesions change after a few weeks indicating something that will need further intervention or to determine if the lesions stay around the same size. Chances are, an X-ray will not be enough to make a proper diagnosis so you will need to get computer tomography (CT) testing in order to get a better look at what could be happening. Ask for an X-ray though first if you are worried because there is less radiation compared to having a CT scan done so it will be a safer test for you to do for a simple screening. [7]

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