Is It Lung Cancer? Know the Signs and Symptoms

May 7th 2016

Lung cancer is a serious illness that most often develops from smoking and is sometimes caused by secondhand exposure to tobacco smoke. In some cases, lung cancer has an unknown cause. By the time symptoms arise, the cancer is typically in a progressed stage, so early detection is imperative for treatment. Different types of lung cancers show a variety of signs and symptoms.

General Common Symptoms

Common symptoms of lung cancer include a cough that doesn't go away; chest pain that worsens with coughing, laughing, or deep breathing; hoarseness, weight loss and loss of appetite; and coughing up blood or phlegm. Other common symptoms include shortness of breath and feelings of fatigue or weakness.

If the cancer has spread to other organs such as the brain or liver, symptoms may include bone pain, yellowing of the skin or jaundice, lumps near the surface of the body, and nervous system changes such as headaches, dizziness and numbness.

Symptoms of Horner and SVC Syndromes

Some lung cancers cause very specific symptoms and are often described as syndromes. Horner syndrome, a lung cancer of the top of the lungs, causes severe shoulder pain. The syndrome causes drooping/weakness of one eyelid, the appearance of a smaller pupil in one eye, and reduced or absent sweating on one side of the face.

Super vena cava, or SVC, syndrome involves tumors that back up the blood flowing in the SVC vein that carries blood from the head and arms back to the heart. As a result, swelling, headaches, dizziness, and changes in consciousness occur.

Symptoms of Paraneoplastic Syndromes

Paraneoplastic syndromes, which are associated with small cell lung cancer, are the result of hormone-like substances that flow through the bloodstream, causing problems to distant tissues and organs. An example of this is the syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone, or SIADH, which can be identified by water retention in the kidneys. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, muscle weakness and loss of appetite. Another example is Cushing syndrome; it results in cortisol secretion, leading to weight gain, weakness and fluid retention, as well as diabetes and the symptoms of diabetes.

Some paraneoplastic syndromes are caused by non-small cell lung cancer; these result in symptoms such as nausea, frequent urination, vomiting and other digestive issues from high blood calcium levels. Blood clots, excess bone growth and excess breast growth in men may also occur.

Other Symptoms of Small Cell Lung Cancer

Sometimes this type of lung cancer leads to neurological problems because the immune system attacks parts of the nervous system. Muscles can become weak, and a prolonged muscle disorder can result. Other nervous system problems include sensation changes, vision impairments and changes in behavior.

Symptom Evaluation and Appointment Preparation

Health conditions other than lung cancer can also cause the previous syndromes, so it is important to record and assess symptoms carefully. To prepare for an appointment, make sure to ask about any prerequisites, such as diet restrictions. Also, write down any and all symptoms, even if they seem unrelated. Factor in major life changes and stress, as well as current medications that could be the cause of some symptoms.

You should also prepare questions for your physician. If your general practitioner believes your signs point to a more serious matter, she is likely to refer you to a specialist, such as an oncologist or pulmonologist, for computed tomography scans, a biopsy and other testing.

The preceding symptoms are typically a result of less severe conditions. Due to the complexities of these symptoms, however, it is important to conduct a thorough evaluation with a health care professional at the first signs of unusual changes to bodily functions.

Sources

cancer.org "Lung Cancer Prevention and Early Detection" http://www.cancer.org/cancer/lungcancer-non-smallcell/moreinformation/lungcancerpreventionandearlydetection/lung-cancer-prevention-and-early-detection-signs-and-symptoms
mayoclinic.org "Lung Cancer Symptoms" http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lung-cancer/basics/symptoms/con-20025531

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