One in 16 people will be diagnosed with some form of lung cancer during their lifetimes. You are at risk even if you have never smoked, which is why you should keep an eye out for some of the most common symptoms of lung cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer is the second-most common form of the disease among both men and women.
A large vein known as the Superior Vena Cava or SVC passes through the upper part of your right lung. If any part of this vein is obstructed, it can cause blood to back up inside this vein. Since the SVC carries blood from your head and arms to your heart, this can lead to swelling in the face, neck, or chest area. You might also notice bluish-red skin along with headaches and dizziness. Superior Vena Cava syndrome can sometimes be life-threatening, so you should seek medical attention immediately even if you do not suspect lung cancer.
Certain types of lung cancers secrete substances similar to your body’s own hormones. These substances then enter the blood system and wreak havoc on various organs, a condition referred to as a paraneoplastic syndrome. For example, your body may secret an anti-diuretic that causes your kidneys to retain water, or lead to hypercalcemia or high blood calcium levels. Men may develop breasts, a condition referred to as gynecomastia. Individuals may even experience a thickening of certain bones, especially those at the fingertips.
Those with lung cancer often have a persistent cough that does not go away and has no attributable cause. If your cough continues for several weeks, does not improve with treatment, or seems to get worse over time, you could be in the early stages of lung cancer. Likewise, if you cough up blood or wheeze so hard that your chest hurts, this can also be cause for alarm.
Being a little hoarse after a bout with tonsillitis or a sore throat is really no big deal. But if you suddenly become hoarse yet have no other symptoms, the reason could be lung cancer. This is especially true if your voice changes dramatically or other people have trouble determining what you are saying.
Lung tumors often block the airways or put extensive pressure on them. As a result, you may have difficulty breathing or become short of breath after even the slightest exertion. Fluid build-up in the lungs often accompanies cancer, and this can make it difficult for you to breathe as well. Be especially mindful if you are often short of breath but do not have an underlying condition such as asthma.
If you have lung cancer, you’re more susceptible to developing bronchitis or pneumonia. You’ll also have a harder time fighting off those infections, in which case your condition may persist despite aggressive treatment. You might also get rid of a bronchial infection only to find out that it returns again only a short time later.
Chest pain can be attributed to many things, and lung cancer is one of them. With lung cancer, chest pain often manifests itself as a tightening of the chest that gets worse whenever you cough, laugh, or breathe very deeply. Chest pain in particular is one of the first warning signs of Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLS), which accounts for between ten and fifteen percent of all lung cancers.
Lung cancer patients often lose weight very suddenly. Many times, they have an unexplained loss of appetite that accompanies this weight loss, but in other instances, they simply drop pounds. In fact, sudden, unexplained weight loss is a telltale sign of many cancers, including lung cancer. So it’s best to get checked out if you have recently lost more than ten pounds without even trying-particularly if you are also having trouble putting that weight back on.
You may experience pain in one or more bones if your lung cancer spreads to other areas of the body. Those with lung cancer often do not discover it until they begin suffering unbearable hip, back, shoulder, or leg pain. Or they first notice a dull, deep aching in a bone and can’t seem to contain it.
Tumors can cause your lungs to work harder than they have to. As a result, you may tire very easily, even when you have not necessarily exerted yourself. You may have little energy to perform daily activities with, or feel a sense of weakness that leaves you unwilling to try. Or you could have trouble standing, walking, or holding heavy objects due to weak muscles.
When lung cancer spreads to the liver, it can result in jaundice. This is a condition in which the liver becomes obstructed and then produces excess amounts of the pigment bilirubin. As a result, you may notice yellowing skin or the whites of your eyes. Another sign your liver is affected involves abdominal swelling, which could indicate a buildup of fluid.
Lung cancer can spread to the lymphatic system, causing tiny lumps underneath the skin to suddenly appear. So if you have lung cancer, one sign could be tiny lumps in the neck, head, face, or collarbone. These growths are not necessarily painful, but can nonetheless affect your ability to control certain movements or functions.
Lung tumors can sometimes disrupt nerve signals to the face and eye. This can result in a phenomenon known as Horner Syndrome, a condition in which the eyelids droop and the pupil becomes smaller. Horner Syndrome normally affects only one side of the face, and may be accompanied by profuse sweating on the affected side. Other conditions such as trauma or stroke can bring about Horner syndrome. However, if yours comes on suddenly and has no apparent cause it could be due to lung cancer.