Did you know that lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States? Each year, more people die from lung cancer than from breast, prostate, and colon cancers combined. And yet, many people don’t realize they are at risk for this disease until it’s too late. That is often because lung cancer doesn’t show any symptoms until it has reached an advanced stage. By then, it may be too late for treatment to be effective. However, if you are aware of the subtle symptoms of lung cancer, you can get help sooner and improve your chances of survival.
Early on, lung cancer may not cause any noticeable symptoms. The first sign of a problem is often pain in the chest or shoulder area. The pain can feel like a sharp, stabbing sensation that worsens with deep breaths. You may also feel pain in your chest when coughing or when your lung is irritated. However, chest tightness and pressure in the chest area can also be a symptom of heart problems and anxiety. So if you have any type of chest pain, make an appointment to see your doctor immediately.
Do you have a nagging, ongoing cough that won’t go away? If so, you need to see your doctor immediately. A prolonged cough may signify lung cancer or another severe respiratory disease. It can also indicate a tumor formed on the outer lining of your lungs, known as mesothelioma. A cough that won’t go away can also signify that cancer has spread from where it started to other parts of your body and is moving into your lungs.
Hoarseness Or Loss of Voice
If you’re experiencing hoarseness or a loss of voice, it could result from vocal cord problems. However, it can also be one of the subtle symptoms of lung cancer that may go unnoticed. Breathing in carcinogens such as cigarette smoke and asbestos puts you at very high risk for lung cancer. And, because the voice box is located right near your lungs, breathing harmful cancer-causing chemicals can lead to irritation of the vocal cords. If you have developed lung cancer, you may notice this same symptom persists. So if you ever see that you are losing your voice more frequently, it is best to report this symptom to your doctor.
Losing weight without trying can be one of the more obvious signs of lung cancer. However, it is important to know that loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting are also subtle symptoms of lung cancer that may go unnoticed. Many people associate weight loss with cancer treatments, but it can also signify that your body isn’t receiving enough nourishment. As the disease progresses, you may experience more symptoms that can cause nausea or vomiting, such as pain in the abdomen area, leading to loss of appetite and weight loss. If you’re having trouble keeping your food down because of these symptoms, it is important to report this to a doctor.
A drop in your stamina and the feeling that you don’t have as much energy as you used to can be an early sign of lung cancer. Cancer cells, which typically divide rapidly, use large amounts of glucose. This process makes them very active and can take up much-needed calories from other parts of your body. This can result in low energy levels and feelings of fatigue. If you’ve been feeling exhausted for no particular reason, make an appointment to see your doctor and have them check what may be causing it.
Wheezing & Shortness of Breath
Many people report difficulty breathing or feel short of breath when the disease has reached a later stage. At this point, cancer cells can surround your windpipe and airways, blocking oxygen from entering your lungs. This leads to a shortage of oxygen in the blood. You may start to wheeze or feel like you’re short of breath. If you feel like you can’t take a deep breath, this is a vital sign that should be reported to your doctor right away.
If you’re waking up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat, it could be a sign that your body isn’t receiving enough oxygen. Cancer cells typically decrease oxygen levels and rely on glucose for energy. So to compensate for this lack of oxygen and energy, your body will produce more red blood cells to help carry oxygen through the body. Due to this increase in red blood cells, it can sometimes result in night sweats. As the disease progresses and spreads, you may also notice that your skin appears yellowish or greyish because of anemia. So it is important to tell your doctor about any night sweats you’re experiencing if it doesn’t seem to have any other apparent reason, such as a night terror or another sleep disorder.
Coughing Up Blood
Coughing up blood can be one of the most obvious signs of lung cancer. Blood comprises red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and plasma. As the disease progresses, carcinogens in your lungs irritate your airway walls and cause them to swell. Swelling leads to fluid buildup, which leads to heavy coughing. You may also notice swelling and buildup of blood and mucus in your lungs, which can lead to pain and difficulty breathing. If you cough up any amount of blood, it is crucial to see a doctor immediately.
As you can see, lung cancer won’t necessarily leave you with crippling symptoms immediately. It may be several months before you notice any symptoms at all. But it is important to watch for subtle changes in your body and share any unusual or persistent symptoms with your doctor as soon as possible. If detected early, there are many treatment options to help prolong your life.