Lung cancer, as indicated by its name, is a form of cancer that starts in the lungs. It is also the leading cause of death from cancer in the United States. Depending on the severity of one's lung cancer, various measures can be taken to target cancerous cells, which is why it is imperative to take action as soon as symptoms surface. Although smoking is a direct cause of lung cancer, an estimated fifteen thousand Americans who have never smoked die on an annual basis from lung cancer. Regardless of personal circumstances, do not rule out any possibilities, especially when the following warning signs of lung cancer are present.
Frequently Feeling Sick
Have you abnormally been catching every single illness going around, the flu, a common cold, or even bronchitis? Although this could be a sign of low immune system function, lung cancer is also a potential culprit. Catching the flu frequently and suffering from more intense and long-lasting cold symptoms than what seems normal may be the result of increased susceptibility to illness, but not always. It can also be an indicator of lung cancer, as this cancer does cause symptoms similar to common illnesses. As stated, however, if the symptoms may be indicating lung cancer, they will be more intense and will likely last much longer than they would if it were the common cold or another simple, common illness.
By the time lung cancer is diagnosed, more than sixty percent of patients lose a significant amount of weight. As such, if an individual has not made discernable lifestyle changes recently, yet they are rapidly losing weight, it may be a sign of lung cancer. It is also important to remember lung cancer can dramatically reduce one's appetite, and can thus mean a patient is not consuming the necessary calories, hence the weight loss. However, patients may not be consciously aware they are not consuming sufficient calories. If an individual cannot explain a sudden drop in weight, they should be sure to speak to a doctor to rule out lung cancer or other serious ailments.
Breast Growth In Men
Breast enlargement in males, often referred to as gynecomastia, whether subtle or dramatic, could indicate lung cancer, particularly when other warning signs on this list are also present. Gynecomastia occurs because as tumors in the lung or lungs metabolize, proteins and hormones are secreted into the patient's bloodstream. More specifically, estrogen can be secreted into the bloodstream, and the increase of estrogen is believed to play a strong role in gynecomastia. However, some research indicates this particular symptom is one of the rarer ones when it comes to lung cancer.
When individuals develop lung cancer, both a persistent cough and a hoarse voice are common warning signs. For those who have smoked for numerous years, a 'smoker's cough' is generally to blame, but a recurrent cough and hoarse voice could also be due to tumor development, especially if an individual is not a smoker. That said, smokers, particularly long-term ones, are at a much higher risk of developing lung cancer than non-smokers, so it is worth checking out any abnormal changes, especially related to hoarseness and coughing. As a tumor develops, a blockage can occur, resulting in a buildup of mucus. If large enough, a tumor may also cause pressure to build as it pushes against one's larynx or vocal cords.
Muscles becoming increasingly weak and individuals experiencing more fatigue can also be a warning sign of lung cancer. This is because as lung cancer tumors grow, they will release antibodies that attack muscles, thus weakening them. Furthermore, the function of red blood cells may be compromised, which can cause symptoms of anemia. On trademark symptoms of anemia is feeling fatigued more often than a healthy individual, as well as feeling fatigued for no other discernible reason. Thus, individuals who find performing simple tasks such as climbing stairs or doing simple housework more challenging than before, as well as if they are feeling weak or fatigued for no reason, should contact their primary care physician as soon as possible.
As alluded to earlier, chronic coughing in an individual may be an indication they have lung cancer. Coughing is a natural mechanism the body uses to protect itself. It is an action that assists the lungs with clearing out harmful or foreign objects, germs, and pathogens. While it makes sense for a cough to stick around when recovering from the flu or cold, lung cancer can cause a cough to persist in the absence of viral or bacterial illness. Chronic cough is the medical term used to describe a cough that is ongoing for a minimum of eight consecutive weeks.
The lung cancer cough can happen during the day or at night, and it may occur in short or prolonged episodes. Some individuals with the lung cancer cough report it interfered with their sleep at night. The chronic cough that occurs in lung cancer patients may be productive or non-productive. There is no definitive way to distinguish a cough caused by lung cancer from a cough with a different cause. The suspicion of lung cancer arises in the presence of other symptoms occurring with the cough such as shortness of breath, chest pain, hoarseness, respiratory infections, unexplained weight loss, and spontaneous cessation of smoking.
Coughing Up Blood
Coughing up blood (hemoptysis) is the most common symptom reported by patients at the time of their lung cancer diagnosis. Mucus lines the airways and sacs in the lungs to help protect the fragile membranes from becoming damaged by foreign objects and pathogens. A malignant tumor in the lung can cause the airways to become narrowed or blocked, inhibiting the natural distribution and expulsion of the mucus. This malfunction can cause an increased production of mucus that comes up out of the lungs during a chronic coughing episode. In addition, a growing cancerous tumor causes damage to the sacs in the lungs lined by thousands of tiny capillaries of which constantly facilitate the circulation of blood for oxygen-carbon dioxide exchange. The damaged sacs can cause small amounts of blood to leech into the mucus lining the lungs.
When the affected individual has an episode of chronic coughing, they may observe streaks of blood that can vary in color from bright red to dark reddish black in the mucus they cough up. This symptom is often overlooked at the beginning because it is typically a trivial amount of blood the patient assumes came from an irritated tooth, mouth sore, sore throat, chapped lips, or irritated nasal passageways. However, hemolysis will worsen as the malignancy progresses in the lung.
A collapsed lung can be a symptom that occurs in individuals affected by lung cancer as a manifestation of their malignancy. A lung tumor grows larger over time, which can cause one or more partial or full blockages of the lung passageways or endobronchial obstruction. When air is unable to pass through the passageway, it does not reach the air sacs or alveoli. The air in the alveoli is eventually reabsorbed by the capillaries, causing the sacs to cave in on themselves and collapse. When numerous alveoli collapses occur near each other, the entire lobe of the lung will collapse.
In some cases, the tumor begins on an outer edge of the lung and grows outward into the space between the chest wall and surface of the lung. The tumor may grow to be extensive enough to place a significant amount of external pressure on the passageways and alveoli inside of the lung. This mechanism ultimately inhibits air from reaching many of the alveoli, resulting in the lungs inability to inflate. When the lung cannot inflate, it collapses in on itself. Another mechanism that can cause a lung collapse is when another factor causes fluid to accumulate in the pleura. The fluid places external pressure on the lung that ultimately stops it from being able to fill up with air, resulting in a collapse of part or all of the lung.
Swollen Lymph Nodes
Swollen lymph nodes in an individual may indicate they have lung cancer that has spread into neighboring lymph nodes. Typically, malignancy in the lung metastasizes to nearby lymph nodes before it reaches other organ systems in the body. When malignant cells enter into the lymphatic vessels, they are carried to nearby lymph nodes and become trapped. Once in the lymph node, the tumor grows and causes the lymph node to become enlarged. Lung cancer can metastasize to the lymph nodes near the tumor or what is considered regional lymph nodes. It can also spread to lymph nodes in other regions of the body not near the lung tumor.
When lymph nodes become enlarged or swollen from a cancerous growth, they can cause unpleasant symptoms. The lymph nodes in the neck can swell and place pressure on the nerves that play a key role in voice function, causing a hoarse voice. Swollen lymph nodes closer to the lung can put pressure on the organ itself, causing shortness of breath. Lymph nodes affected by cancer in the neck may manifest as swelling in the region right above the collarbone that may extend up to underneath the chin.
Half of all individuals who receive a lung cancer diagnosis have experienced pleural effusion as a symptom of their disease. Healthy individuals have about a teaspoon of fluid that resides in the pleural space between the external surface of the lung and the wall of the chest to lubricate the membranes and facilitate smooth movement. When more fluid accumulates in the pleural space and begins to cause symptoms, it is called pleural effusion. Many factors can cause this to occur, including malignancy of the lung. The cancerous tumor inside of the lung grows into the pleural space, causing the fluid in the pleura to house the cancer cells.
In a healthy individual, excess fluid would be reabsorbed into circulation by the blood and lymphatic system. However, when cancerous cells invade into the pleura and riddle the accumulated fluid, the body can no longer effectively absorb the fluid. In addition, the tumor can compromise venous functionality in the chest area, which causes fluid to leak out of the veins into the pleural space. When the pleural effusion or fluid accumulation in the pleura becomes severe and places significant pressure on the lung, the organ can collapse.