Lung Cancer Signs & Symptoms

In the United States, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among both men and women. According to the American Cancer Society, more people die of lung cancer each year than they do of prostate cancer, colon cancer, and breast cancer combined. What’s even more surprising is that as many as 20% of those people have never smoked a day in their life. Statistics such as these make it clear that lung cancer can happen to anyone. Because of this, it’s important to be on the lookout for lung cancer symptoms regardless of your age or lifestyle choices.

In most cases, lung cancers do not cause symptoms until the cancer has become advanced, however, that is not the case with everyone. People showing early symptoms of lung cancer may experience a slight cough, sometimes with blood production or shortness of breath that usually becomes more severe as the cancer progresses. Lung cancer treatment, like most cancers, is likely to be more successful the earlier the cancer diagnosis. Because of this, we recommend you contact your doctor if you are experiencing any lung cancer symptoms.

Symptoms of Lung Cancer

  • Unexplained hoarseness
  • A lingering cough not associated with a cold
  • Coughing up blood or coughing up spit or phlegm tainted with blood
  • New onset of wheezing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Loss of appetite or weight loss not associated with lifestyle changes
  • Constant chest pain that worsens with deep breathing, coughing, or laughing
  • Fatigue and/or weakness
  • Recurring (chronic) infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia

Once lung cancer progresses and spreads to other areas of the body, symptoms often change. Some symptoms of advanced lung cancer may include:

  • Pain in bones
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • Headache, dizziness, or weakness in the arms or legs
  • Lumps in the neck and/or collarbone region

Syndromes Associated with Lung Cancer

Some lung cancers can cause groups of very specific symptoms known as syndromes. These syndromes can sometimes affect other organs in the body. Because of this, some doctors may misdiagnose, thinking something other than lung cancer is causing the problem. These syndromes are:

Horner syndrome

A combination of symptoms caused by a disturbance in the nerve pathway that runs from the brain to the face and eye on one side of the body. Typically, Horner syndrome results in drooping or weakness of one eyelid, decreased pupil size, and reduced or absent sweating on the affected side of the face.

Superior vena cava syndrome (SVCS)

A syndrome that occurs when a person’s superior vena cava (the major vein that carries blood from the head and arms back to the heart) has a partial blockage or compression. Common symptoms of SVCS include difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, coughing, and swelling of the face, neck, upper body, and arms.

Paraneoplastic syndromes

Rare disorders triggered by substances produced and secreted by the tumor. These hormone-like substances affect distant tissues and organs, even though the cancer itself has not spread to those same areas. Some common paraneoplastic syndromes associated with lung cancer are:

  • Blood clots
  • Hypercalcemia (high blood calcium levels)
  • Cushing syndrome
  • SIADH (syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone)
  • Nervous system problems
  • Excess growth or thickening of certain bones
  • Gynecomastia (excess breast growth in men)

Oftentimes, most of these symptoms related to lung cancer, including the listed syndromes, are the result of something other than lung cancer. Regardless, it is important to see your doctor immediately if you notice one or more of these signs or symptoms, or anything unusual, so the cause can be found and treated if needed.

If you are local to Arizona Oncology, our lung cancer specialists are available for appointments in several locations in the Phoenix, Tucson, or Flagstaff areas.