Healthy Living

What Are the Early Signs of Lung Cancer?

The importance of deciphering warning signals of cancer's approach

What Are the Early Signs of Lung Cancer?

Lung cancer allows a five-year survival limit, and that is if the disease has not spread elsewhere in the body. This is all the more reason to be alert to early warnings of cancer’s approach. With early detection, cancer survival ratings improve remarkably.

1.   Misery and mood swings

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Carrying the burden of depression and pangs of anxiety attacks over a long period could point to a deeper issue within the lobes of the lung. Studies reveal a remarkable psychosomatic (mind-body) connect between incidents of chronic depression and lung cancer. A good number of adults 50 years and above approaching specialists for psychiatric care show a propensity for developing cancer in the lungs. Lethargy, excessive fatigue, high irritability, and anger management issues are common to depressive mind sets.  In turn, these emotional issues lead to a problem in the mind manifesting as a disease in the tissues.

2.   Recurring respiratory problems

Catching a cold, coming down with the flu, getting a bronchitis attack, or even going down with pneumonia would be hazardous only if attacks happen frequently. Women who smoke regularly are particularly vulnerable to hidden cancer attacks.

The matter becomes serious when each ailment takes longer than before to recover from. Ultimately, the patient gets saddled with a cough that refuses to go away. In the background, cancer would have laid its foundation in the bronchioles of the lungs, mimicking symptoms of the common cold. When cancer remains untreated, the immune system weakens, succumbing to more serious infections like pneumonia.   

3.   Losing interest in food or losing weight rapidly

Our attitude to food undergoes a change and the food we love no longer interests us. Food intake suffers because we don’t feel hungry. Worryingly, we feel full or become nauseated immediately after taking even a small portion. Not surprisingly, the weight drops rapidly and clothes start slipping off shoulders.

Lung cancer does kill the appetite and provokes weight loss through reduced food intake. Part of the reason is that our breathing becomes more labored. If cancer has spread elsewhere as in the liver, abdominal fullness, bloating, and pain could follow nausea. If gastric disorders and food poisoning can be ruled out, unexplained weight loss needs medical attention.  

4.   Abnormal breast growth in men

Gynecomastia, in men, is characterized by the protrusion of mammary tissue giving a dome shape to the nipple. It is normally associated with excessive weight gain and advancing age. The condition would be normally ignored except for the embarrassment it generates. If there is a tumor in the background, it could provoke the release of proteins and hormones that stimulate breast growth, among other side effects. Breast growth showing up in association with other symptoms would be worrying.  

5.   Lethargy and tiredness

If tiredness cannot be tied to reasons that are clearly evident, we need to look under the skin for hidden triggers. One of the common signs of cancer is exhaustion that wears you down. It has everything to do with the substances that enter the bloodstream when tumors grow rapidly. The harmful byproducts of growing cancer tissue reduce oxygen retention in affected organs by weakening red blood cells. The adrenal glands secrete lower levels of cortisol, the hormone that fights infection and keeps us alert and active. If fatigue is not due to overwork or overexertion, you need immediate medical attention.

6.   Breathlessness and recurring cough

Episodes of breathlessness, with or without cough, are often confused with symptoms of flu and colds. It’s a red signal if coughing persists and produces painful wheezing that catches your breath. Such symptoms appearing in regular smokers could point to cancer. Behind the scenes, the growing tumor cells prevent air sacs from carrying out their respiratory functions. The lung function worsens and the body loses precious oxygen needed to revive tissues, hence the tiredness. Chest x-rays and lung function tests will be necessary to rule out asthma or COPD.

7.   Muscular weakness and chest pain

Carrying out normal functions like shopping and lifting groceries leaves you feeling under the weather, and chest pain recurs. This could be a classic case of the Lambert-Eaton Myasthenic syndrome associated with small cell lung cancer. At the cellular level, the tumor releases substances that instigate the body to attack healthy cells. The chest pain could be brought on by a weakness in the muscles aggravated by the growth of cancer cells.

A doctor should be approached if any kind of chest pain, whether sharp, low, deep, or intermittent is experienced. It should also be clarified and closely-observed whether the chest pain remains confined to a specific region or covers the entire chest area. However, when chest pain arises due to lung cancer, it is enlarged lymph nodes that are the major reason behind the same. However, chest pain may also occur due to metastasis of the chest wall, pleura (the membranes around the lungs), or the ribs.

8. Wheezing

When the nostrils or the airways become blocked, obstructed, inflamed, or constricted, a wheezing sound is produced from the lungs during the breathing process. Though there are various causes associated with the wheezing, some are usually benign and can be easily treated. However, continuous wheezing may also be a possible symptom of lung cancer. Thus, it requires immediate attention from an experienced doctor. One should never make the assumption that asthma or certain allergies are responsible for wheezing, unless complete confirmation is made in this regard.

9. Bone Pain

Lung cancer that has spread to the bones produces extreme pain in the bones of the back and in other areas of the body. This pain may become worse at night when the patient rests on his or her back. While it is difficult to make a differentiation between the bone and the muscular pain, one important point which clarifies this fact is that the bone pain become intolerable at night and increases with movement. Furthermore, lung cancer may also be associated with arm, shoulder or neck pain, though this is observed in fewer cases. It is therefore suggested and strictly recommended that one be attentive toward these aches and pains, and discuss them with a medical practitioner if these are observed regularly.

10. Hoarseness in the voice

A raspy or hoarse voice may also be an early symptom of lung cancer and occurs when the tumor or cancer cells affect the nerves that control the larynx (the 'voice box'). If significant changes are observed in the voice of an individual or when his or her voice sounds deeper, raspier, or more hoarse than usual, then better have it checked by a doctor. A cold or cough may cause hoarseness, but if it persists for a period of more than two weeks, it could very well point to something serious.