The early symptoms of lung cancer may be a slight cough or shortness of breath, depending on which part of the lung is affected. As the cancer develops, these symptoms may become more severe or intense. Like many other types of cancer, lung cancer may also cause systemic symptoms, like loss of appetite or general fatigue.Early warning signs of lung cancer
Most lung cancers don"t cause symptoms until the disease has advanced, in part because the lungs have few nerve endings. When lung cancer does cause signs in its early stages, they may vary from person to person but commonly include:
Less common symptoms of lung cancer may include:
Although most of these symptoms are more likely to be caused by something other than lung cancer, it"s important to see a doctor. Discovering lung cancer early may mean more treatment options are available.
Advanced stages of lung cancer are often characterized by the spread of the cancer to distant sites in the body. This may affect the bones, liver or brain. As other parts of the body are affected, new lung cancer symptoms may develop, including:
Non-small cell lung cancers (NSCLC) may grow slowly over a period of time before symptoms develop. Common NSCLC symptoms include:
Other areas of the body may be affected by either the spread or development of NSCLC tumors.
Neurological changes: Lung cancer may spread (metastasize) to the brain. This may cause headaches or even seizures. Numbness or weakness in the arms and legs may occur if a large tumor begins to press against a nerve.
Lumps: In advanced stages, the cancer may spread throughout the lymph nodes. Sometimes, tumors near the skin surface may appear as lumps.
Horner syndrome: Tumors may possibly cause nerve damage. Horner syndrome is a particular set of symptoms associated with nerve damage. The symptoms often affect one side of the face, causing a droopy eyelid and a reduction in the size of the pupil (the dark center of the eye).
Paraneoplastic syndromes: Cancer cells may make chemicals that trigger other reactions, which are collectively referred to as paraneoplastic syndromes. Symptoms may include high blood calcium levels (hypercalcemia), excess bone growth or blood clots.
Most of the signs associated with small cell lung cancer (SCLC) are not present until the cancer has progressed. Typically, symptoms of SCLC continue to evolve and worsen as the disease spreads to distant organs.
Early symptoms of SCLC:
Symptoms of advanced-stage SCLC:
Paraneoplastic syndromes and lung cancer:
Sometimes, SCLC can cause paraneoplastic syndromes. While not always the case, these syndromes are often early signs of SCLC.
SCLC may cause one of these three paraneoplastic syndromes: Syndrome of Inappropriate Anti-Diuretic Hormone (SIADH), Cushing Syndrome or Lambert-Eaton Syndrome. Symptoms of paraneoplastic syndromes include muscle cramps, muscle weakness, elevation of calcium in the blood and clubbing, which refers to a change in the shape of the finger tips.
Metastatic lung cancer symptoms depend on the part of the body to which the cancer has spread, as well as the size and location. Sometimes, metastatic disease may not cause any symptoms, though about 30 percent to 40 percent of people with lung cancer will have symptoms of metastasis.
Understanding when symptoms are a sign of something serious and either diagnosing the disease or confirming a previous diagnosis require expertise from specialists trained and experienced in treating lung cancer. At Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA), our lung cancer experts treat all stages of the disease.