Lung Cancer Symptoms

  • Symptoms

    Symptoms of lung cancer vary according to what type of lung cancer you have and where it is located in the lungs. Some symptoms of lung cancer, when and if they occur, are persistent coughing, shortness of breath, blood in the sputum and wheezing.

    Symptoms of lung cancer don't usually occur until the disease has become significantly worse. Symptoms may be noticed once the cancerous mass of cells, called a tumor (carcinoma) has increased in size, invaded surrounding tissue, or spread to other parts of the body. Persistent coughing, shortness of breath, coughing up blood, and wheezing are possible symptoms. Recurring pneumonia may be a sign of cancer, and deserves further investigation. If the cancer has spread to surrounding tissue, you may also experience chest or shoulder pain, hoarseness, and difficulty swallowing. If it has reached other parts of the body, weight loss, fatigue, bone pain, yellowing of the skin, lumps under the skin, weakness in the arms and legs, headaches, seizures, and other symptoms may occur, depending on where the tumor has metastasized.

    You may experience different symptoms depending on the disease's progression and what type of lung cancer you have Table 02.

    Table 2.  Potential Symptoms of Lung Cancer According to Stage

    Local (small area of lung) Cancer has spread within the lung Cancer has spread to other body systems
    Shortness of breath Shortness of breath Weight loss, often dramatic, leading to sunken eyes and hollow cheeks
    Spitting up blood Cough Fatigue
    Chest pain Spitting up blood Bone pain
    Pneumonia Pneumonia Yellowing of the skin caused by a liver malfunction (jaundice).
    ? Chest pain Pain in the liver
    ? Inflammation of the tissue that surrounds the lungs (pleurisy) Skin lesions
    ? Shoulder pain Headache
  • Risk Factors

    Smoking cigarettes contributes to more cases of lung cancer than any other cause. Long-term smokers face a lung cancer risk 20 times greater than nonsmokers. The odds increase for heavier smokers. Changing to low-tar cigarettes, cigars, or pipes does not decrease the danger. Your risk decreases significantly five years after smoking your last cigarette, and after 10 to 15 years, you begin to get close to the level of a nonsmoker. Stopping smoking, even later in life, benefits your health, although the earlier you quit the better.

    Women exposed to the same amount of smoke as men are more likely to develop lung cancer. Exposure to asbestos or other industrial chemicals increases your odds of developing lung cancer. If you have worked as a ship builder, as a miner, or you manufacture or repair brakes, you may have been exposed to large amounts of harmful toxins, which increases your risk three to four-fold. If you work with harsh toxins and you smoke, your chance of getting lung cancer is even higher.

    Family members of people with lung cancer are at greater risk for the disease. Siblings and offspring of lung cancer patients have a slightly higher chance of developing the disease, which could be due to genetics. If the lung cancer patient is a smoker, the increased risk may be due to secondhand smoke. If you are a smoker, you put your family members at greater risk by exposing them to your cigarette smoke.

    Your risk for lung cancer increases with age. A previous diagnosis of cancer and scarring of the lungs after pneumonia or tuberculosis also increases your risk.

    Most cases of lung cancer are diagnosed in people between the ages of 55 and 65. It is not often seen in younger people, although it has happened. If you have had cancer before, you are at greater risk of developing it again than someone who has never had it. This is true of all cancers. Having chronic obstructive lung diseases, such as emphysema or chronic bronchitis puts you at greater risk for lung cancer. Both of these diseases are linked to heavy cigarette smoking.

    Secondhand smoke increases your chances for developing lung cancer, putting spouses and those working in smoke-filled environments at greater risk. Air pollution and vitamin deficiencies also may contribute to the disease.

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