Even though lung cancer kills approximately 1.3 million people each year, the disease is not a definite death sentence. Those diagnosed early stand a 50-percent greater chance of survival over those whose undiagnosed cancer spreads to other organs throughout the body.
Any of the following ten early warning signs of lung cancer could save your life if detected early…
1. Labored Breathing
Shortness of breath or wheezing might not be a symptom that you consider serious. However, if you suddenly find yourself short of breath when performing activities that didn’t previously make you winded, you should interpret it as a warning sign that something might be wrong.
Keep in mind that shortness of breath can have many causes, but if you’re at increased risk for lung cancer, you should have it checked out as soon as possible. As noted, cancer survival rates are much higher in cases where the disease is detected early and treated aggressively.
2. Stubborn Cough
A persistent cough that leads to a hoarse, raspy voice that won’t go away, it can indicate a lung issue. Sadly, many folks blame this symptom on a cold or allergies and don’t get it checked out. Coughs associated with lung cancer may be dry, or they may be productive. The telltale sign is that it persists for longer than eight weeks with no other apparent cause.
While this type of cough is usually present throughout the day, many patients report that it is worse at night, causing them to lose sleep and leading to fatigue and loss of productivity. Many people dismiss the severity of the symptom, which can unfortunately lead to slower cancer detection.
3. Plummeting Weight
Weight loss is often celebrated, but if you’re not cutting calories or exercising more to lose weight, something else might be up. Add to that a sudden lack of appetite and a cancer tumor may be the cause in your sudden metabolism spike. This happens because while you may not detect a problem, your body does, and it’s working harder and expending more calories to try to heal a tumor that keeps growing and growing.
Cancer-related weight loss is usually unexplained, occurring when patients have made no significant changes to their dietary or exercise habits. This condition is technically known as cachexia, and in extreme cases, it can cause the body to literally waste away as it eats away muscle and body fat in its search for all possible sources of energy.
4. Chest Pain
One prime symptom of lung cancer is chest pain that’s felt deep in the lungs when you lift something, cough or laugh. And persistent pain in the chest that doesn’t go away is a sign that you may have lung cancer. This pain occurs because the growing tumor is pressing against surrounding tissues and nerve endings as it increases in size.
If the lung cancer spreads to other parts of the body, these areas are also likely to be affected by pain. Lung cancer metastasis frequently occurs in bones, so if you’re experiencing bone pain, particularly in the back or hips, along with chest pain, see your doctor right away.
5. Hand & Finger Pain
Fatigue and pain in fingers may be two early warning signs of lung cancer that tend to be overlooked. In the majority of cases, when the skin of the palms thickens and becomes white with pronounced folds (a condition called “tripe palms” due to the appearance), cancer is present. Tripe palms are associated with both stomach cancer (35 percent of cases) and lung cancer (11 percent of cases).
This disfiguring symptom is caused by cancer-caused changes to normal bodily processes. In the case of tripe palms, the palmar skin cells are hyper-stimulated, causing them to proliferate and resulting in buildups of thick, scaly white skin.
6. Bloody Phlegm
Coughing up blood in phlegm is never healthy, even when its just tiny spots of rust-colored blood in your phlegm. Even if this doesn’t indicate lung cancer, it likely signals another serious underlying medical condition, and you should have it checked out by a doctor.
In many cases, coughing up blood is accompanied by other symptoms, including shortness of breath, a persistent fever, or pain in the chest. As a general rule of thumb, make a doctor’s appointment if you detect small amounts of blood in your phlegm, but seek immediate medical attention if you cough up a large volume of blood or if the bleeding doesn’t stop.
7. Mood Swings
Mood swings, episodes of anger and irritability, followed by exhaustion and even depression can become routine for those suffering from lung cancer. The situation could be most evident in a formerly easygoing person who suddenly seems to let everything irk them. However, given the nonspecific nature of this symptom, most patients (and even doctors) won’t immediately link it with lung cancer.
These mood disturbances are most often associated with advanced-stage lung cancer, so they are unlikely to be the only detectable symptom. However, they can also occur while the cancer is still at a relatively early stage, so if changes in mood accompany any of the other symptoms on this list, a trip to your doctor is a must.
8. Frequent Infections
Recurring pneumonia or bronchitis, as well as other infections that one just can’t seem to shake are common with lung cancer, particularly with infections that affect the airways. If you suffer from chronic lung infections, it may be time for a lung x-ray. These infections usually occur because the body’s immune system is compromised by its unrelenting fight against the malignancy.
Oncologists stress that recurrent infections are a normal part of the course of cancer, and they accompany virtually every form of the disease. With lung cancer, though, bacterial infections usually affect the lungs and/or respiratory tract. Such infections need to be treated separately with antibiotics.
9. Shoulder Pain
Shoulder pain can occur if a lung tumor grows and puts pressure on the top of the lungs and the nerves in the armpit. This pressure will often result in aches, tingling, and pain sensations that shoot down the shoulder, the inner arm, and hands. Unfortunately, this is a sign that the cancer tumor has become very large, and as such, it may be very difficult to treat.
Related pain conditions include tenderness and soreness of the rib cage, especially near the armpits. Swollen lymph nodes, general body aches, and facial swelling can also accompany cancer-related shoulder and arm pain.
10. Irregular Breast Tissue
Abnormal breast development in men can occur due to the cancer encouraging the secretion of unusual hormones. Breast development will usually begin spontaneously, and progress over a period of a few weeks or a few months. Most men are totally unaware that this condition is associated with lung cancer, and it just goes to show that if you can’t explain a health issue, you should never ignore it.
This condition, technically known as gynecomastia, happens because the body produces increased levels of estrogen when cancer is present. Estrogen, in turn, triggers breast growth. The condition can be managed surgically, or by taking supplements designed to even out hormone levels in the bloodstream.