Simple considerations for the average reader…
Silent signs of lung cancer you need to be aware of
Lung cancer is the leading reason for cancer deaths worldwide among men and women. Smoking actively is one of the most common causes of lung cancer. But it does not leave passive smokers, that is, people who are exposed to it by being near a smoker, in the clear.
The general prognosis of lung cancer is poor since the signs and symptoms are not noticed until it reaches an advanced stage. This is why you should watch out for the signals early on and act as fast as possible.
There are two types of lung cancer – small-cell lung cancer (SCLC) and non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC), the former being the more common of the two.
What triggers cancer in the lungs?
1. Smoking actively
2. Passive smoking – Being around people who smoke
3. Exposure to asbestos
4. Previously diagnosed lung condition such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
5. Living in an area with heavy air pollution for many years
6. Hereditary factors
How do I know if I have lung cancer?
Shortness of breath and coughing fits are major signs of having developed lung cancer, UNLESS you have previously diagnosed conditions like asthma, bronchitis, pollen allergies, tuberculosis, a chest infection and so on.
If your cough is deeper and hoarse-sounding or you’re coughing up unusually large amounts of mucus or you notice a change in your voice, then check for these 14 symptoms of lung cancer noted below.
1. Unusual Headaches
Headaches can be caused when lung cancer spreads to the brain. Now we know that sounds confusing since there are many different causes of headaches as well.
But headaches caused by lung cancer can be attributed to the cancerous tumor in your lung creating pressure on the large vein that moves blood from the upper body to the heart. Headaches that are caused by lung cancer are usually accompanied by repeated seizures, memory loss, and personality changes.
2. Blue Fingernails or Skin
The bluish or purplish discoloration of the skin, which is called, cyanosis is caused by low oxygen saturation. It happens to be one of the early signs of the presence of a cancerous tumor in your lungs.
This color change could occur gradually and keep getting progressively darker over time. Cyanosis is also visible on the lips, fingernail beds, and overall skin on your body when gets more advanced.
3. Persistent Shoulder Pain
Cancer is not the direct cause of shoulder and arm pain, but a rare type of cancerous tumor called Pancoast tumor that grows on the upper part of your lungs could lead to this. These tumors seldom affect your breathing, making them a truly silent sign of lung cancer.
Pancoast tumors cause pain in the shoulders as well as arms and even lead to muscle weakness, tingling skin, and a loss of feeling in the arms. Gradually, the growth of such tumors are accompanied by pain spreading through your upper back. About 40 percent of those with Pancoast tumors tend to develop Horner’s syndrome, one of the symptoms of which is shoulder pain.
4. Chest Pain
Chest pain is more often associated with heart disease, but it’s also a silent sign of lungs with cancer. A membrane called the pleura lines your lungs. If the cancerous tumor starts disturbing it in any way, chest pain quickly makes itself known.
A simple method should help you verify if your chest pain needs to be checked out immediately – Just see if it’s getting worse as you try to breathe deeply or when you’re laughing or coughing. Either way, chest pain, whether it’s caused by cancer or not, is something that should never be taken lightly.
5. Extreme Fatigue
Extreme fatigue can be an early sign of cancer. You’ll start noticing that no amount of sleep is able to replenish your energy. Lung cancer patients suffer from tiredness due to the toll that decreased lung function takes on their bodies. Constant fatigue could very well be a sign of other serious illnesses as well; so it definitely shouldn’t be ignored.
Fatigue is among the easiest signs of lung cancer to recognize. No amount of coffee will be able to cure your tiredness and the bed will keep pulling you towards it all the time. If this is happening persistently, it’s time to go get yourself checked.
6. Unrelenting Coughing Fits
This sign is pretty obvious. Coughing is largely associated with lung cancer. Before cancer progresses into the advanced stage, people are known to experience unrelenting fits of cough. This type of cough isn’t something that lasts only a few days; it develops into a lingering issue.
No matter if it’s dry or contains mucus, continuous coughing is a bad sign. This is why one should never dismiss this signal. A visit to the doctor should entail them listening in on your lungs or ordering an X-Ray to have a better look at what’s causing the cough.
7. Clubbing of Fingers
Finger clubbing is when there’s a noticeable change in the shape of your fingers and fingernails. It has been observed that a large portion of people suffering from non-small cell lung cancer start experiencing this symptom in the early stages. It’s a consequence of chronically low blood levels of oxygen, a symptom of lung cancer.
When finger clubbing is setting in, the nail beds first become soft and the skin next to them, shiny. This eventually leads to the fingernails curving more than normal and the ends of the fingers then become larger until they start bulging noticeably.
8. Weakness of Muscles
Muscle weakness is caused by your immune system recognizing lung cancer and producing anti-bodies that lead to the Lambert–Eaton myasthenic syndrome (LEMS). A direct effect of this disorder is weakness in the muscles. Patients will lose their ability at the gym, find it difficult to move furniture, and perform other tasks that require strength.
It’s been proven that nearly 60% of those suffering from LEMS have an underlying malignancy, most commonly small-cell lung cancer. This diagnosis is usually confirmed with the help of electromyography and blood tests. If LEMS is indeed caused by lung cancer, direct treatment often gets the strength back in your muscles.
9. Repeated Bouts of Pneumonia
Pneumonia is basically an inflammatory condition of the lung that affects small air sacks called alveoli. It’s usually caused by infection with viruses or bacteria, and less commonly by other microorganisms. Even so, if the same area of your lungs is repeatedly leading to pneumonia, it could be an early sign of lung cancer.
Moreover, since pneumonia and lung cancer both occur in the lungs, they share the same overlapping symptoms. And because cancer of the lungs leads to weakening of the immune system, the individual becomes more susceptible to pneumonia.
10. Upper Body Swelling
Swelling in the upper body is related to the superior vena cava, which is a major vein in the human body that carries blood from the head, neck, upper chest, and arms to your heart. As the tumor in the lungs keeps getting larger, it compresses the vena cava.
This compression leads to the Superior Vena Cava Syndrome, a direct result of which is swelling in the areas to which the vein carries blood – head, neck, upper chest, and arms. This swelling in the upper body could also be accompanied by trouble in breathing or shortness of breath and even coughing.
11. Bone Pain and Fractures
If not detected early, lung cancer can spread to the bones and may produce pain in the back or other areas. What’s more, it may lead to weakness in the bones and that could invite fractures at the slightest provocation to the bone in question.
The spread of cancer cells to the bones is called bone metastasis and it’s caused by not just cancer of the lungs but also by other types of cancer. These include breast cancer, kidney cancer, lymphoma, multiple myeloma, prostate cancer, and thyroid cancer.
12. Blood Clots
As many as 20 percent of cancer patients get blood clots in various parts of their bodies. Experts note that tissue damage caused by some cancers might trigger the blood clotting process. Also, chemotherapy inflames blood vessels and veins, clogging the blood with dead cancer cells.
Blood clots don’t always land you in the hospital. So it’s advisable to be observant of your body all the time. Any person with cancer can develop blood clots. However, certain kinds of cancer like lung cancer or pancreatic cancer increase the risk of this occurrence.
13. Lack of Appetite and Weight Loss
Appetite loss and weight loss have both been cited to be silent signs of lung cancer. While the loss of appetite appears to present itself as anorexia, the weakness and weight loss caused by the resultant ill health and malnutrition is known as cachexia. Together, they are referred to as cancer anorexia-cachexia syndrome (CACS).
CACS causes additional complications and negative effects on the health of patients with lung cancer. Nearly half of all the patients suffering from all forms of cancer experience anorexia and cachexia, and at diagnosis, approximately 60 percent of patients with lung cancer have already experienced substantial weight loss.
14. Extreme thirst
In a large number of patients, it is noticed that tumors in the lungs produce substances which cause noticeable changes in the body. A direct symptom of this is increasingly high levels of calcium in the blood, which results in extreme thirst.
Having a higher than usual level of calcium in the blood is called hypercalcemia. About 10 to 20 percent of people with cancer develop hypercalcemia over time. Not only are high calcium levels associated with extreme thirst, but they also lead to frequent urination.
~ Conclusion ~
As mentioned above, lung cancer causing agents are all around you, in the air you breathe. One instance of being exposed to cigarette smoke or polluted air will not give you a lung disease of any form. It is prolonged exposure to risk factors which develop into cancer.
One of the best ways to fight cancer of the lungs to stay informed about the warning signs since early detection is vital.
Written for and publsihed by Health Jockey, September 6, 2020