Delay in the diagnosis of any kind of cancer can lead to several complications in the advanced stage. It is no different in the case of lung cancer, which is a leading cause of Cancer deaths in the Western world.
Even though cancers such as breast cancer, cervical cancer, prostate cancer etc., have improved mortality rates, in the current times, the survival rate of lung cancer remains the same as before, that is between 10 and 15%. This is due to the fact that the cancer is already advanced and has already disseminated in the body by the time patients presents it to doctors.
Nearly 80% of patients have an advanced stage cancer when they get it diagnosed, excluding them from curative resections.
This does not only hurt the prognosis; it also hurts the survival rate.
However, this isn’t only attributable to the patients and general awareness. Early lung cancer is largely asymptomatic, and the patients do not know what to look for.
Even when the symptoms appear, they are so common that they are considered to be harmless.
- Coughing up blood
This is never a good sign. Ever. Cancer may not be the cause behind bloody coughs but getting them tested is important because they happen to be one of the most ignored symptoms of lung cancer, especially if you smoke.
Copious amounts of mucus are also an indication that something is terribly wrong, so if you experience a chronic cough it is time to get an appointment with the doctor.
- A new pain
A new shoulder, back, or chest pain that becomes persistent over time can be a symptom of lung cancer. You might notice a tightness or experience a sharp pain that gets worse with breathing, coughing, and laughing, then you are feeling the pain where the tumour is located. So, if you are feeling a new, persistent pain on your side that has no explanation, then it may a lung-related or heart-related disease.
At times, lung cancer is the reason of chest pain, resulting from enlarged lymph nodes or metastasis.
When constricted, blocked, or inflamed airways produce a whistling sound when you breathe, it refers to wheezing. While it can be associated with multiple causes, some of them harmless and easily treatable, wheezing is also a symptom of lung cancer and warrants your doctor’s attention. Don’t just assume that it is a result of allergies and asthma; let your doctor confirm that for you.
- Persistent Coughing
Talking of asthma, a recent asthma diagnosis can also be a symptom of lung cancer.
A persistent cough due to allergies or cold is normal but if the coughs are persistent then this could be a sign of a respiratory infection. So don’t be tempted to dismiss as just stubborn cough, see your doctor right away.
- Unexplained Weight Loss
A sudden weight drop of over 10 pounds, without any reasonable explanation, should never be written off. In fact, it is usually associated with cancer, as the malignant cells require more energy. At times, cancer also leads to a paraneoplastic syndrome which can contribute to weight loss as well. Remember that weight isn’t lost without any efforts. If it is, it is time to drive to the doc’s.
- Bone pain
Joint and bone pain is always a red flag. In the case of cancer, it means that cancer has metastasised to other organs. The pain might even worsen during the night while you rest. However, you may not be able to spot a tangible difference between bone and muscle pain. Bone pain tends to increase with movement and is way worse at night. Thus, don’t write off your aches and pains as stress or age; explain them to your doctor.
- Increased Thirst, Frequent Visits to the Bathroom
At times, the release of a hormone-like substance by the lung cancer cells can upset your body’s internal rhythm. At times, excessive calcium may be introduced in the bloodstream leading to nausea, belly pain, excessive thirst, frequent urination, constipation, etc. As these symptoms seem to be mostly harmless, the deficiency is not spotted until you knock your doctor’s door.
There may be some other unease associated with lung cancer, considering the fact that no one can say for sure the hormones that are being produced by cancer cells before getting a tissue sample tested.
- Unexplained Fatigue and Frequent Headaches
Fatigue is a tricky symptom as it can happen purely due to strenuous activities or an array of medical conditions. However, if you find that your activity is low and you are not able to do many things that you were able to do a few months ago (read exerting activities) and you don’t know why, head to your doctor’s, especially if fatigue is present along with a chronic cough or respiratory infection.
While not every a headache is attributable to cancer, it may be a sign that cancer has spread to the brain. Sometimes a lung cancer might pressurise or constrict the large vein that carries the blood from upper body to the heart. This constriction may cause superior vena cava syndrome, causing headaches and migraines
- Hoarse, raspy voice
A cough, wheezing and sore throat, is it cold or cancer? Of course, it can be cold, but cold wouldn’t last forever. If these symptoms persist for over two weeks, it might be something serious. If your voice changes to sound deeper, raspier or someone points out that it has become hoarse, and remains so without an explanation, you should notify your doctor as lung cancer can affect the nerves that control the voice box (larynx) in the throat.
1 in every 4 cancer deaths is caused by lung cancer, making it all the more important to keep an eye out for the aforesaid common symptoms. Unfortunately, the symptoms are largely non-specific and can be more difficult to spot in the presence of another pulmonary disease.
But with awareness, cancer can be nipped in the bud.