Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among both men and women. Surprisingly, as many as 20% of those are people are ones who have never smoked at all. According to the American Cancer Society, more people die of lung cancer each year than they do of prostate cancer, colon cancer, and breast cancer combined. Lung cancer can happen to anyone. Whether you’re young or old, a smoker or a non-smoker, it’s important to be on the lookout for lung cancer symptoms.
The signs and symptoms of lung cancer are not always obvious until the cancer has developed to a more advanced stage. Because of this, screening for lung cancer is especially important for those at a high risk of developing it.
For people at high risk of lung cancer, lungs are screened every year with a low-dose CT scan (LDCT) — especially since lung cancer symptoms don’t always appear until it is at a later stage.
Additionally, it’s important that people who are going to be screened:
While most lung cancers do not cause symptoms until the cancer has become advanced, that is not the case for everyone. Early symptoms of lung cancer may include a slight cough or shortness of breath that typically becomes more severe as the cancer progresses. Lung cancer treatment, like most cancers, is likely to be more successful the earlier the cancer diagnosis. Because of that, we recommend you contact your doctor if you are experiencing any of these lung cancer symptoms:
Once lung cancer becomes advanced and spreads to other areas of the body, symptoms often change. Some advanced lung cancer symptoms may include:
Dr. Anthony Van Ho, an oncologist at Compass Oncology, discusses the importance of lung cancer awareness and how continued research has provided more understanding of the different types of lung cancer, screening, and treatment options.
Some lung cancers can cause syndromes, which are groups of very specific symptoms. However, because these syndromes can affect other organs in the body, some doctors may misdiagnose, thinking something other than lung cancer is causing the problem. These three syndromes are:
Superior vena cava syndrome (SVCS) -- a syndrome that occurs when a person’s superior vena cava (the major vein that carries blood from the head and arms back to the heart) has a partial blockage or compression. Common symptoms of SVCS include difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, coughing, and swelling of the face, neck, upper body, and arms.
Horner syndrome -- a combination of symptoms caused by a disturbance in the nerve pathway that runs from the brain to the face and eye on one side of the body. Typically, Horner syndrome results in drooping or weakness of one eyelid, decreased pupil size, and reduced or absent sweating on the affected side of the face.
Paraneoplastic syndromes -- rare disorders triggered by substances produced and secreted by the tumor. These hormone-like substances affect distant tissues and organs, even though the cancer itself has not spread to those same areas. Some common paraneoplastic syndromes associated with lung cancer are:
In many cases, most of these symptoms related to lung cancer, including the listed syndromes, are the result of something other than lung cancer. Regardless, if you notice one or more of these signs or symptoms, or anything unusual, it is important to see your doctor immediately so the cause can be found and treated, if needed.
Learn about lung cancer diagnosis.
If you are local to Compass Oncology, our lung cancer specialists are available for appointments in several locations in the Portland-Vancouver area including East Portland, West Portland, Rose Quarter, Tualatin, and Vancouver, WA.