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Unexpected Signs and Symptoms of Lung Cancer

  • Category: Cancer
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: Baton Rouge General
Unexpected Signs and Symptoms of Lung Cancer

Lung cancer accounts for 13% of all cancers diagnosed in the United States with over 225,000 people expected to be diagnosed in the coming year. There is a misconception that everyone diagnosed with lung cancer is or was a smoker. While smoking is one of the main causes of lung cancer, non-smokers get lung cancer too. Non-smokers who are exposed to second-hand smoke have a 20-30% higher risk of developing lung cancer.

Another misconception is that everyone diagnosed with lung cancer had a persistent cough or experienced shortness of breath. But in its early stages, lung cancer typically doesn’t have symptoms that can be seen or felt. As the cancer progresses, if often causes obvious symptoms that are tied to basic lung functions like coughing, wheezing, or chest pain. But there are several unexpected signs and symptoms of lung cancer not related to lung function.

  • Hoarseness or change in voice- Many conditions can cause your voice to sound hoarse but a tumor in the lungs can press on the nerve that controls the vocal cords.
  • Change in weight- Lung cancer patients often suffer from weight gain or loss. Weight gain is caused from an increased production of the hormone ACTH in those suffering from small-cell lung cancer. ACTH triggers cortisol production which leads to fluid retention and weight gain. Other patients can experience weight loss due to loss of appetite from higher calcium levels.
  • Balance problems- Tumors located near the superior vena cava, a large vein that circulates blood from the head and arms to the heart, can make you feel unsteady or lose your balance. Anemia, common in lung cancer patients, can also be a common cause of balance problems.
  • Fatigue- Anemia, a low red blood count, is very common in those with lung cancer. Extreme fatigue occurs because your body isn’t getting enough oxygen.
  • Changes in eyesight- Horner syndrome is when part of the face and the nerves leading to the eyes are affected by tumors located in the apex or top part of the lung. Patients have reported having a droopy eyelid accompanied with a small pupil in one or both eyes.
  • Bone Pain- Feeling weak, achy, or having pain when moving, at night or when lying on your back can be due to lung cancer that has spread into the bones.
  • Extreme thirst and frequent urination- Increased levels of calcium in the blood (hypercalcemia) can cause digestive issues that lead to thirst and frequent urination.
  • Digestive problems- Stomach aches, constipation or nausea affect almost 20% of those suffering from lung cancer. This is large part due to hypercalcemia, too much calcium in the blood.
  • Clubbed or fatter fingers- An astonishing 80% of people with clubbed fingers have lung cancer. The skin next to the fingernail looks shiny and the ends of the fingers appear “fatter.” Fingernails begin to curve downward like a spoon. This is due to hormone-like chemicals produced by some tumors that push more fluid or blood to the tissues in the fingers.
  • Swollen breast in men- Large-cell lung cancer, a less common form of lung cancer, can increase the hormone levels in men, causing swelling and tenderness in the breast tissue.
  • Heart problems- Those with lung cancer often report having a rapid or irregular heartbeat due to anemia and elevated calcium levels. High calcium levels can cause serious heart problems including heart attacks and coma. Those suffering with severe anemia may experience shortness of breath and chest pain.
  • Puffy face, neck, or arms- Swelling in the face, neck, and arms or purplish tent to the chest can occur when blood backs up in the superior vena cava, a large vein that circulates blood from the head and arms to the heart.

It is important to schedule a check-up with your doctor to discuss your symptoms. Keep in mind that while none of these symptoms definitely mean that you have lung cancer, having several of them is concerning.