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Risk of Malignancy in Incidentally Detected Lung Nodules in Patients Aged Younger Than 35 Years.

BACKGROUND: The risk of malignancy in pulmonary nodules incidentally detected on computed tomography (CT) in patients who are aged younger than 35 years is unclear.

OBJECTIVE: The aim of this study was to evaluate the incidence of lung cancer in incidental pulmonary nodules in patients who are 15-34 years old.

METHODS: This retrospective study included patients aged 15-34 years who had an incidental pulmonary nodule on chest CT from 2010 to 2018 at our hospital. Patients with prior, current, or suspected malignancy were excluded. A chart review identified patients with diagnosis of malignancy. Incidental pulmonary nodule was deemed benign if stable or resolved on a follow-up CT at least 2 years after initial or if there was a medical visit in our health care network at least 2 years after initial CT without diagnosis of malignancy.Receiver operating characteristic curve analysis was performed with nodule size. Association of categorical variables with lung cancer diagnosis was performed with Fisher exact test, and association of continuous variables was performed with logistic regression.

RESULTS: Five thousand three hundred fifty-five chest CTs performed on patients aged 15-34 years between January 2010 and December 2018. After excluding patients without a reported pulmonary nodule and prior or current malignancy, there were a total of 779 patients. Of these, 690 (89%) had clinical or imaging follow-up after initial imaging. Of these, 545 (70% of total patients) patients had imaging or clinical follow-up greater than 2 years after their initial imaging.A malignant diagnosis was established in 2/779 patients (0.3%; 95% confidence interval, 0.1%-0.9%). Nodule size was strongly associated with malignancy (P = 0.007), with area under the receiver operating characteristic curve of 0.97. There were no malignant nodules that were less than 10 mm in size. Smoking history, number of nodules, and nodule density were not associated with malignancy.

CONCLUSIONS: Risk of malignancy for incidentally detected pulmonary nodules in patients aged 15-34 years is extremely small (0.3%). There were no malignant nodules that were less than 10 mm in size. Routine follow-up of subcentimeter pulmonary nodules should be carefully weighed against the risks.

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