Although some lung cancer patients do not experience symptoms until the disease progresses or spreads, many others do. The problem is that most people ignore their symptoms until “harmless” coughing and “periodical” chest pains begin interfering with everyday life. Do not follow in their footsteps, as diagnosing lung cancer early makes it easier to treat.
A Complete List of Lung Cancer Symptoms
Bear in mind that most of these symptoms, more often than not, are a result of something less serious than lung cancer. Regardless, if you have any one of these symptoms, consult a doctor right away to determine the cause and find an immediate solution.
- A persistent cough that worsens over time
- Coughing up blood or rust-colored sputum
- Chest pain that may feel worse when you cough, laugh, or breathe deeply
- Hoarseness or other changes in your voice
- Unexplained loss of appetite and weight loss
- Feeling weak or tired, even if you did nothing all day
- Frequent infections with bronchitis or pneumonia
- Shortness of breath
- Sudden onset of wheezing
If lung cancer spreads (metastasizes) and reaches other areas of the body, it may cause:
- Bone pain anywhere in the body, but often in the vertebrae or ribs
- Changes in the nervous system, which signals cancer spread to the brain:
- Numbness or weakness of an arm or leg
- Balance or coordination problems
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), due to cancer spreading to the liver
- Swollen lymph nodes (collection of immune system cells) evident in the neck or above the collarbone
Syndromes Associated With Lung Cancer
Lung cancer can cause syndromes, which scientists define as groups of different medical signs and symptoms.
- Horner syndrome
Pancoast tumors, also known as superior sulcus tumors, can affect certain nerves in the face and cause a group of symptoms called Horner syndrome:
- Drooping or numbness of one upper eyelid
- A smaller pupil in the same eye
- Little to no sweating on the same side of your face
In addition, Pancoast tumors can sometimes cause severe shoulder pain, chest tightness, and upper arm swelling.
- Superior vena cava syndrome
The superior vena cava (SVC) is a major vein responsible for carrying blood from the head and arms down to the heart. According to the American Cancer Society, “It passes next to the upper part of the right lung and the lymph nodes inside the chest. Tumors in this area can press on the SVC, which can cause the blood to back up in the veins.”
Superior vena cava syndrome can cause the following group of symptoms:
- Swelling in the face, neck, upper chest, and arms, often with a bluish-red skin color
- Headaches and dizziness
- A change in consciousness or mental state, if the tumor begins affecting the brain
Although SVC syndrome tends to progress slowly, in some cases, it can be fatal. Therefore, SVC syndrome requires immediate treatment.
- Paraneoplastic syndromes
Some types of lung cancer make hormone-like substances that can enter the bloodstream and cause problems to distant organs and tissues, even though the cancer has not metastasized to those areas. Oncologists refer to these problems as paraneoplastic syndromes. In some cases, these syndromes are the first symptoms of lung cancer. Furthermore, because the symptoms affect other organs in the body, a health condition or disease other than lung cancer may mask the real culprit.
Paraneoplastic syndromes can develop with any lung cancer type. However, they are more often associated with small-cell lung cancer. The most common syndromes include:
- Coagulation or clotting of the blood.
- Syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone (SIADH). In this condition, lung cancer cells make ADH, which is a hormone that causes your kidneys to hold water, therefore reducing the level of salt in the blood. Symptoms of SIADH often include muscle weakness or cramps, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, weight loss, mental confusion, and restlessness. Without treatment, a severe case of SIADH can lead to seizures and coma.
- Cushing syndrome. In this condition, the malignant cells produce adrenocorticotropic hormones (ACTH) that cause the adrenal glands to make a fight-or-flight hormone called cortisol. As a result, symptoms like easy bruising, weight gain, fluid retention, weakness, and drowsiness may arise. In addition, Cushing syndrome can cause high blood sugar and blood pressure levels, as well as diabetes.
- Problems in the nervous system. Small-cell lung cancer has a tendency to cause the immune system to attack certain areas of the nervous system, which can then lead to additional problems. One example is Lambert-Eaton syndrome, which is a type of muscle disorder. In this syndrome, the muscles around your hips become weak. Among the first signs is difficulty getting up from a sitting position. As the syndrome progresses, the muscles around your shoulder may also become weaker. A more rare problem is paraneoplastic cerebellar degeneration, which can lead to unsteadiness in arm and leg movement, loss of balance, and difficulty swallowing or speaking. Small-cell lung cancer can likewise cause other nervous system problems, including weakened muscles, vision problems, sensation changes, and behavioral changes.
- Hypercalcemia. High levels of calcium in the blood can cause excessive thirst, frequent urination, constipation, vomiting, nausea, stomachaches, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, and confusion.
Again, keep in mind that the majority of these symptoms are more likely a result of something other than lung cancer. However, if you experience any of them, consult a physician as soon as possible to receive an accurate diagnosis.
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