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Symptoms of Lung Cancer

Symptoms include coughing

Sadly, one of the reasons that lung cancer is so deadly is that it usually does not cause symptoms until the disease has advanced and spread. In a reasonably large portion of patients however, there may be subtle symptoms that are ignored or misinterpreted. By paying attention to the symptoms of lung cancer and taking action in a timely manner, diagnosis and treatment can begin earlier. Earlier diagnosis and treatment can turn into a better overall lung cancer prognosis.

Since lung cancer is most common in smokers, it is often difficult for patients to recognize the symptoms of lung cancer when they occur on top of already frequent lung and breathing problems. In those exposed to asbestos—another large group of lung cancer patients—lung cancer symptoms may be more easily recognized.

The symptoms of lung cancer can be divided into three main types: symptoms caused by the tumor itself, symptoms caused by local spread of the lung cancer and symptoms caused by widespread metastasis. The most common lung cancer symptoms are listed in Table 1.

Table 1 - Lung Cancer Symptoms
Cancer Location Symptom
Primary tumor
  • Chest pain (increases with breathing in some cases)
  • Cough (sometimes bloody)
  • Fluid in the lungs (pleural effusion)
  • Pneumonia (often repeated cases)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
Local spread of the tumor
  • Changes in voice (hoarse)
  • Changes in pupil dilation
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Strange sound when breathing (sometimes called stridor)
  • Fluid accumulation in the lungs
Distant spread of the tumor
  • Weakness and/or numbness
  • Trouble walking
  • Pain in the bones
  • Visual troubles
  • Any neurological problem that has no other cause

Small-cell lung cancers, one of the main types of lung cancer comprising about 15% of all cases, are well known for causing paraneoplastic syndromes. These syndromes can cause a number of bizarre and seemingly disparate symptoms. While they are most common in small-cell lung cancers, any lung cancer can cause a paraneoplastic syndrome.

Some of the more common paraneoplastic syndromes that occur with lung cancer are hypercalcemia, Trousseau syndrome, SIADH, elevated ACTH production, and Lambert-Eaton syndrome. Paraneoplastic syndromes are fairly rare disorders. When they occur from lung cancer it usually indicates advanced disease. Some paraneoplastic syndromes associated with lung cancer are included in Table 2.

Table 2 - Paraneoplastic Syndromes Associated with Lung Cancer
Paraneoplastic syndrome Definition/Symptoms
  • Elevated calcium levels in the blood
  • Nausea/vomiting/constipation
  • Kidney stones/flank pain
  • Muscle twitches/weakness
  • Syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone secretion
  • Low blood sodium
  • Loss of appettite/nausea/vomiting
  • Headaches/blurred vision/confusion
  • Muscle cramps/weakness
Cushing syndrome
  • Elevated adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) production
  • Facial puffiness and roundess
  • Fat around the upper back, neck and abdomen
  • Purple lines on the abdomen (striae)
Lambert-Eaton syndrome
  • Nerves do not release neurotransmitter on muscles
  • Cause muscle weakness
  • Trouble chewing, swallowing, talking, climbing stairs
  • Rising from a seated position

Read more about:
Lung Cancer Treatment
»Lung Cancer Diagnosis

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