Lung Cancer Symptoms
Symptoms don’t generally occur in
the early stages of lung cancer, but rather become apparent as the disease
advances. It’s important to note that symptoms seen in patients with lung cancer
can also occur with other lung diseases. Common symptoms of lung cancer are
described in the following sections. You should contact your doctor for a complete
medical evaluation, if you experience any of these symptoms.
Coughing is your body’s way of
trying to expel an irritant from the throat or airway by pushing a burst of air
into the lungs. An intense, persistent, or consistently worsening cough can be
a sign of lung cancer and should be investigated. Contact your doctor
immediately if you cough up blood or bloody mucus and phlegm.
Shortness of Breath (Dyspnea)
Sometimes this sensation is
described as a tight or crushing feeling in the chest. The spread of lung
cancer can cause blockages in the major airways or the buildup of fluid around
the lungs (pleural effusion), causing a shortness of breath.
Wheezing can be described as a
high-pitched whistling that occurs when you breathe out. It’s caused by
constricted air passages, which may be the result of a tumor.
Hoarseness or Change in Voice
Normally your vocal chords
produce sound by opening and closing, causing vibrations. The vocal chords can become irritated and inflamed if lung cancer has spread to
the throat. This may cause a change or hoarseness in your voice.
Fatigue is a constant worn-down
feeling. With a disease like lung cancer, your body is under constant attack
and works overtime to try to fight the disease and heal itself. This effort can
bankrupt you of energy and leave you feeling tired and unmotivated.
A fever is an indication that
something abnormal is happening in your body. When you are ill, your
temperature rises above its normal 98.6 degrees.
This is the body’s
attempt to minimize heat loss and fight off infection. If the fever gets too high or does not go away in a few days, contact your doctor.
When the tiny blood vessels
(capillaries) in your body are damaged or undergo pressure, they leak fluid.
Your kidney responds by retaining water and salt to compensate for the loss.
This excess fluid causes the capillaries to leak more fluid. Your lymph nodes work to clear excess fluid from your body. Cancer can block or damage your lymph nodes and prevent them from
doing their job. This can result in the swelling of the neck, face, and arms.
Other potential symptoms of lung cancer include:
- pain in the shoulders or back
- constant chest pain
- frequent or recurring lung infections (i.e. pneumonia and
- loss of appetite
Additional symptoms may occur once the cancer has spread to different parts of the body (metastasized). These
- bone and joint pain
- dizziness or seizures
- unsteadiness or memory loss
- yellowing of the eyes and skin
- weakness or numbness of the arms and legs
- blood clots
- lumps near the surface of the skin, especially by the lymph
Sometimes when it spreads, lung
cancer can literally strike a nerve. This can cause a group of symptoms
(a syndrome) to develop.
Horner syndrome occurs when a
tumor forms in the upper part of the lung, damaging a nerve that passes from
the upper chest to the neck. This can cause severe neck or shoulder pain.
Additional symptoms of this syndrome include:
or weakness of one eyelid (ptosis)
pupil size in the same eye
or absent sweating on the same side of the face (anhidrosis)
Some lung cancers can cause
paraneoplastic syndrome. This is a rare group
of symptoms caused when the
cancer produces hormone-like substances that affect
other organs or tissue. These symptoms are sometimes the first evidence of cancer, although they often do not generate an immediate lung cancer diagnosis as they do not affect the lungs.
Symptoms can affect the muscles, gastrointestinal tract, blood, and cardiovascular
systems, among others.