Top 10 Lung Cancer Symptoms | Your Health in 2012
For the last couple of weeks, we have been discussing one of the most common New Year’s Resolutions, as well as one of the hardest resolutions to keep—To give up smoking.
Smoking is the number one risk factor for lung cancer. In fact, smokers and ex-smokers can be as much as 45 times more likely to develop lung cancer in the next 5 years than someone their age who has never smoked.
If you or a loved one smokes, it is a good thing to quit, and the new year is a good time to take on the new challenge of living smoke-free. If you quit smoking, your lung cancer risk will reduce over time. That said, you are still at an increased risk for lung cancer.
According to our Lung Cancer Risk Assessment, which is based upon a published risk model by M.D. Anderson researchers and clinicians, a 60 year old male who quit smoking 15 years ago is still 28 times more likely to get lung cancer in the next 5 years than someone his age who never smoked. For reasons like this, it is important to be aware of lung cancer symptoms and take advantage of early lung cancer detection methods. If lung cancer is found in its earliest stages, the 5-year survival rate triples.
Below, we have listed the top 10 lung cancer symptoms. These symptoms may depend upon the site and extent of involvement with the tumor.
#1 Persistent Cough
A persistent cough is an important symptom of lung cancer, but it is also difficult to distinguish a cough associated with lung cancer from a cough associated smoking or chronic lung conditions like COPD. If a patient who had chronic cough shows changes in the pattern of cough, the possibility of lung cancer should be considered—however, a cough in itself is not definitive.
#2 Shortness of breath
Again, shortness of breath associated with lung cancer is difficult to differentiate from the one that is associated with COPD. As mentioned above, a change in one’s pattern of respiratory difficulty should cause concern for the possible development of lung cancer, but it is also is not definitive.
#3 Productive Cough
A productive cough is when some type of secretions come up during coughing, which could be in the form of mucus or blood. If a productive cough—especially one with blood—occurs in a patient with a history of smoking, lung cancer should be suspected and an appropriate work up is to be done to confirm or exclude this possibility.
Many times lung cancer makes its initial presentation in the form of a newly developed pneumonia. The growing tumor may cause obstruction of the airways, and cause what is called "Post obstructive pneumonia." Patients who develop pneumonia may be advised to get repeat imaging to make sure that all the pneumonia is resolved completely and that no residual opacities are visible.
#5 Fluid in the lungs
Lung cancer may spread to the inner lining or outer covering of the lungs (known as plura), and this may result in the development of fluid accumulation between the lung and the chest wall (plural effusion). Development of plural effusion may result in increased shortness of breath.
#6 Chest pain or tightness in the chest
Lung cancer can infiltrate into the chest wall and may cause pain and/or tightness in the chest. Development of chest pain in a high-risk person should alert the physician to the possibility of lung cancer with chest wall invasion, or plural involvement.
#7 Bone and joint pain
Tumors in the apex (also called pancoast's tumors) of the lung may invade into the surrounding nervous structures causing pain in the shoulders or arms. Tumors in these areas are difficult to be seen on a chest X-ray, hence patients who has symptoms suggestive of pancost's tumors. Tumors infiltrating into the diaphragm may also produce shoulder pain.
#8 Change in the voice
Change in one’s voice pattern (usually hoarseness of voice) can be a symptom of lung cancer. This occurs more commonly with left sided tumors, and happens because of the pressure effect on one of the nerves that comes from the chest to the vocal cord, called the recurrent laryngeal nerve.
Wheezing can be caused by direct, partial obstruction of a large airway by a tumor. This can also result in shortness of breath. However, wheezing can also be caused by many lung conditions, including asthma, infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia, foreign objects that are aspirated (breathed into) the lungs or tumors.
#10 Other symptoms
Lung cancer may cause other symptoms due to pressure effects. Pressure on the esophagus can lead to difficulty in swallowing (dysphagia). Pressure on the superior vena cava that returns blood from the upper part of the body to the heart can lead to a condition called superior vena cava syndrome, which is associated with redness and swelling of the upper part of the body. Tumors close to the heart can infiltrate into the outer covering of the heart called pericardium and may cause accumulation of fluid between the heart and the outer covering of heart (called pericardial effusion).
Given the poor prognosis for most symptomatically detected lung cancer cases, the need for early detection is critical. It is important to quit smoking, to reduce your lung cancer risk as much as you can, but it is also important to remain informed about the symptoms of lung cancer, as well as early detection methods such as EarlyCDT-Lung.
If you know someone who has or is battling lung cancer, or if you are a lung cancer survivor, we invite you to share that story on our Lung Cancer Awareness Wall. The wall serves as a memorial for all people who have fought the #1 cancer killer. Currently, approximately 900 people have shared stories on our wall - Help us get to 1,000 in 2012!
If you think you or a loved one is at risk for lung cancer, we invite you to try out Free Lung Cancer Risk Assessment or see a complete list of lung cancer risk factors and lung cancer symptoms.
According to the American Cancer Society, early detection is the best chance to increase the lung cancer survival rate. To learn more about early detection, click here.