DEAR DR. ROACH: I had a CT scan in July as part of my followup care for grade 1 chondrosarcoma. My scans were good, showing no cancer issues; however, one item that was noted said, "scattered areas of benign mucus plugging."
I contacted my primary care physician to ask what it means, and she said that the note saying they were benign indicates that there isn't anything necessarily to worry about, but said she could refer me to a pulmonologist if I would like a referral. I really don't want to have any additional specialist visits if there is no need, but I still don't understand what it means. My question really is if I should ask for a referral to a pulmonologist, or if this is something that can be ignored. — T.M.H.
ANSWER: The lining of the lung is protected by cells producing mucus, and cilia continuously clear the mucus. Occasionally the mucus gets too thick, and literally can plug a small airway. This can be removed with a forceful cough.
Mucus plugs certainly can be found in people with no lung problems. I think they probably have nothing to do with the chondrosarcoma, a malignant tumor of cartilage (usually on a bone), which can spread to the lung (the CT scan is to look for tumor). It's possible you have some distant residual damage from smoking years ago or that you have asthma that is so mild you haven't noticed it.