Micronodules Detected on Computed Tomography During the National Lung Screening Trial: Prevalence and Relation to Positive Studies and Lung Cancer

Reginald F. Munden, Caroline Chiles, Phillip M. Boiselle, Jo Rean D. Sicks, Denise R. Aberle, Constantine A. Gatsonis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Introduction: In the National Lung Screening Trial (NLST) all cases with a 4-mm nodule (micronodule) and no other findings were classified as a negative study. The prevalence and malignant potential of micronodules in the NLST is evaluated to understand if this classification was appropriate. Methods and Materials: In the NLST a total of 53,452 participants were enrolled with 26,722 undergoing low-dose computed tomography (CT) screening. To determine whether a micronodule developed into a lung cancer, a list from the NLST database of those participants who developed lung cancer and had a micronodule recorded was selected. The CT images of this subset were reviewed by experienced, fellowship-trained thoracic radiologists (R.F.M., C.C., P.M.B., and D.R.A.), all of whom participated as readers in the NLST. Results: There were 26,722 participants who underwent CT in the NLST, of which 11,326 (42%) participants had at least one CT with a micronodule. Five thousand five hundred sixty (49%) of these participants had at least one positive CT examination, of which 409 (3.6%) subsequently were diagnosed with lung cancer. Of the 409 lung cancer cases with a micronodule recorded, there were 13 cases in which a micronodule developed into lung cancer. Considering the 13 cases, they represent 1.2% (13 of 1089) of the lung cancers diagnosed in the CT arm of the NLST and 0.11% (13 of 11,326) of the total micronodule cases. Additionally they represent 0.23% (13 of 5560) of the micronodule and at least one positive CT examination cases and 3.2% (13 of 409) of the micronodule cases diagnosed with lung cancer. The average size of the nodule at baseline (recorded as maximum diameter by perpendicular diameter) was 3.0 × 2.5 mm (ranges 2 x 4 mm and 2 x 4 mm) and at the positive CT the nodule was 11.1 × 8.6 mm (ranges, 6 x 20 mm and 5 x 14 mm); a difference of average change in size of 8.1 × 6.1 mm. The average number of days from first CT with a micronodule recorded to positive CT was 459 days (range, 338 – 723 days), the mean time from first CT with micronodule to lung cancer diagnosis was 617 days (range, 380 – 1140 days) and the mean time from positive CT to lung cancer diagnosis was 160 days (range, 18 – 417 days). Histologically, there was one small cell carcinoma and 12 non–small cell with stages of IA in 8 (62%), stage IB in 2 (15%), and 1 each stage IIIA, IIIB, and IV. The overall survival of NSCLC cases with a micronodule was not significantly different than the survival of the CT subset diagnosed with NSCL (p = 0.36). Conclusions: Micronodules are common among lung cancer–screened participants and are capable of developing into lung cancer; however, following micronodules by annual CT screening surveillance is appropriate and does not impact overall survival or outcome.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1538-1546
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Thoracic Oncology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2019


  • Lung cancer
  • Lung cancer computed tomography screening
  • Micronodule
  • NLST

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine


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