5 Early Signs of Lung Cancer That Many Miss

25 Jan, 2022

Lung Cancer, which is the growth of malignant cells in the vital respiratory organ, can affect anyone at any age. However, it is often diagnosed among smokers, those constantly exposed to carcinogenic gases and with a family history of cancer.

The two main types of lung cancer are:

  • Small Cell Lung Cancer
  • Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer – with subtypes as adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, large cell or undifferentiated carcinoma.

What Are the Common Symptoms of Lung Cancer?

In most cases, lung cancer doesn’t present with any symptoms at the initial stages. However, the following are some of the very obvious signs one should watch out for and seek quick medical consultation.

Persistent Cough:

Continuous cough that doesn’t go away is one of the signs indicative of lung cancer. This cough can get worse with time, making it extremely tough to even lie down, swallow food and sleep. Traces of blood in the sputum (haemoptysis) caused due to cancer cells blocking the airways is a vital sign of lung cancer that has progressed to the next stage.

Difficulty Breathing:

One of the most common symptoms complained about by patients suffering from lung cancer is shortness of breath. The growth of cancer cells not only block the airways but also trigger the accumulation of fluid, which eventually restricts the full expansion of lungs during inhalation, making it tough to breathe.

Respiratory Infections:

Patients suffering from lung cancer are highly prone to various respiratory infections like bronchitis and pneumonia. Bronchitis occurs when bronchial tubes, which carry air to the lungs get inflamed and swollen while pneumonia is a result of fluid or pus-filled air sacs in the lungs. In patients with lung cancer, these infections occur acutely, weaken immunity and often recur despite receiving treatment.

Poor Gut Health:

One of the common symptoms often noticed in patients suffering from lung cancer is weakened digestive health. Severe nausea, constipation, pain in the abdomen, lack of appetite are often complained by the patients. Studies show that at least two in every 10 lung cancer patients develop hypercalcemia, wherein high levels of calcium are accumulated in the body, making the patient feel extremely thirsty thus putting more pressure on kidneys, to filter it out.

Chest Pain:

Recurrent chest pain is another common symptom that might trigger a sense of panic. In regular people, chest pain is caused due to various reasons, including heart attack, indigestion, pneumonia and other cardiovascular problems. However, in lung cancer patients, chest pain could be the result of a tumour pressing on the nerves or causing a severe tight sensation in the lungs. It is noticed more clearly while breathing, laughing, talking loudly and coughing.

Besides these sure-shot signs, lung cancer can also lead to a group of syndromes, as it progresses.

Horner Syndrome:

Cancers that occur on the upper part of the lungs are termed Pancoast tumours. Most common in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCL), these Pancoast tumours affect facial nerves, eyes causing drooping of the upper eyelid in an eye, smaller pupil mostly in the same drooping eye, no sweating on the same side of the face besides severe shoulder pain. In medical terms, it is known as Horner Syndrome.

Superior Vena Cava Syndrome:

Superior vena cava is a large vein that is responsible for carrying blood from the head and arms to the heart and is located next to the upper part of the right lung, inside the chest. When a tumour presses on the SVC, it leads to backing up of the blood in the veins, causing swelling of the face, neck, arms and upper chest region. Known as Superior Vena Cava Syndrome, the patient under this condition may suffer from frequent headaches, dizziness and sudden loss of consciousness.

Paraneoplastic Syndromes:

Certain types of lung cancers can trigger hormone-like substances to enter the bloodstream and affect various tissues and other organs of the body. Known as Paraneoplastic Syndromes, they are often diagnosed in case of SCLC causing various complications including:

Kidneys hold water besides lowering salt levels in the blood. This happens when cancer cells release a certain antidiuretic hormone into the blood causing severe fatigue, loss of appetite, muscular weakness, nausea and vomiting. If not treated on time, it can trigger unconsciousness and eventual coma.

Another condition is Cushing syndrome, where cancer cells make ACTH, triggering more cortisol from the adrenal gland. It causes sudden weight gain, easy bruising, fatigue, fluid retention, high blood and sugar levels.

Lambert-Eaton Syndrome affects the nervous system especially making the body down the waist weaker. The muscles around the hip region become weak and fragile, causing immense trouble in getting up. In severe cases, the patients may develop speech problems, swallowing due to extreme weakness in muscles, sensation and loss of vision.

Significant Symptoms to Watch Out For:

  • Anaemia
  • Fatigue, dizziness, inability to maintain balance
  • Frequent, persistent headaches
  • Irregular heartbeat or arrhythmia
  • Puffiness or inflammation of face and neck
  • Excruciating pain in bones and muscles

What Should I Do If Diagnosed With Lung Cancer?

Getting diagnosed with lung or any other type of cancer is certainly scary, but stay positive. Like in the case of any other cancer, early diagnosis is crucial in charting out the treatment plan. If you are a smoker, quit it right now.

Talk to your doctor about the course of treatment, surgery, medications and details of lifestyle modifications. Remember, staying determined plays a pivotal role in getting that intended positive outcome.

Ensure keeping up with your doctor’s appointments, taking medications and following a healthy lifestyle throughout your treatment in order to win over lung cancer.

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