Most people with lung cancer do not initially experience any symptoms. Unfortunately, many of the early symptoms of lung cancercough, dyspnea, chest pain, sputum production (mucus coughed up from the lungs), and hemoptysisgo unnoticed because the symptoms overlap with those of other respiratory diseases, such as colds, asthma, and bronchitis. Smokers are particularly likely to experience these respiratory symptoms.
- The inability to recognize the early stages of lung cancer means that many patients have advanced or metastatic disease when lung cancer is first diagnosed.
- Symptoms of lung cancer are important to identify for making an initial diagnosis of lung cancer. These symptoms may also give clues to the site of the tumor and to whether or not the disease has spread.
Common symptoms of lung cancer are caused by the growth of the tumor in the lung. Other symptoms, such as weight loss, fatigue, and loss of appetite, are suggestive of cancer in general.
- Chest, shoulder, or arm pain
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
Symptoms of Localized Spread
Less common symptoms may indicate that the cancer has spread locally. These include:
- Facial swelling due to superior vena cava obstruction
- Hoarseness of voice
- Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
- Pleural effusion
- Horner syndrome (caused by nerve compression by a tumor at the top of the lung)
Symptoms of Metastatic Disease
Lung cancer most often spreads to the liver, adrenal glands, bones, and the brain. About 30 to 40% of all patients with lung cancer have some symptoms or signs of metastatic bone disease.
- Lung cancer that has metastasized to the bone causes bone pain, usually in the backbone (vertebrae), the thighbones, and the ribs. Pain near the metastases is usually the first symptom of metastases to the bone. Skeletal-related events such as fractures can also occur.
- Lung cancer that spreads to the brain can cause difficulties with vision, weakness on one side of the body, and/or seizures.58
Metastatic lung cancer in the liver and adrenal glands usually does not cause any symptoms when it is first diagnosed.
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