Lung cancer refers to any cancer that begins in the tissue of the lungs. In the United States, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death, with lung cancer deaths amounting to more than prostate, ovarian, breast, and colon cancers combined.
Despite its growing prevalence, lung cancer can be difficult to spot in its early stages, presenting subtle signs and symptoms that are often easy to mistake for other health issues. Some people in early stages of lung cancer may not present any early symptoms at all. What are the early signs of lung cancer? Read on to learn more about them and what you should do in terms of conventional or holistic treatment for lung cancer.
Sudden Chronic Cough
A cough that comes out of nowhere and doesn’t seem to be going away may be one of the early signs of lung cancer. Tumors can grow anywhere on the lungs, but when they appear in the outer area of the lungs, it can be a while before the tumors actually cause any noticeable symptoms. That, unfortunately, allows the tumor to grow larger. A tumor can potentially grow and push on either of the two bronchi, which are the main passageways into the lungs. That pressure can trigger your cough receptors, resulting in constant coughing. The tumor does not have to be large to cause this coughing response.
However, coughing is a relatively common response, and lung cancer should not be the first thing that you consider. The cold and flu tend to be the most common reason for a sudden cough, and even after your other cold symptoms have subsided, coughing can continue for weeks if you have particularly sensitive lungs. If you have a persistent cough that does not seem to be rooted in a bacterial or viral infection, you should talk to your doctor.
Pain in the chest usually means that the tumor has grown into the chest wall or triggered swelling in the lymph nodes. This pain can feel worse when you laugh, take deep breaths or cough.
Chest pain could be caused by a variety of different issues aside from lung cancer, including muscle strain and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). However, even if it’s not linked to cancer, any severe, persistent chest pain or otherwise mysterious discomfort in your chest area usually points to some serious issues that should be examined professionally by your doctor.
Wheezing or Hoarseness
Cancer in the lungs can present with various breathing issues, particularly hoarseness and wheezing. A hoarse throat and wheezing can come as a result of a variety of issues, like a lingering cold or even just talking too much, so lung cancer should not be your first consideration. Still, if you notice a sudden change in your breathing, it’s worth seeing your healthcare provider.
Shortness of Breath
Related to the above, a tumor can grow and compress the lungs or obstruct your airways, making it harder for you to take full and deep breaths. If you experience any sudden shortness of breath, you should absolutely talk to your doctor.
Sudden Weight Loss
A sudden loss of weight and muscle mass is characteristic of several forms of cancer, not just lung cancer. Part of this comes from the increased fatigue that comes with cancer. Feeling tired all the time can prevent you from participating in physical activities, leading to reduced muscle mass. Part of the weight loss also comes from the release of cytokines. These refer to a broad category of proteins released by your immune system in an attempt to fight off the cancerous cells. Unfortunately, the release of cytokines also causes sudden weight loss, reduced appetite, and reduced muscle mass.
Although weight loss in itself should not be concerning, consult your doctor if you are drastically losing weight without any changes to your diet or physical activity. Unexplained weight loss should be enough reason to go for a check-up.
Coughing Up Blood
Coughing up blood or any rust-colored spit or phlegm should always be a cause for concern, though it may not always be caused by lung cancer. The blood may actually come from your nose, upper respiratory tract, or digestive system.
Up to 20 percent of lung cancer patients are estimated to experience coughing up blood (medically known as hemoptysis) at some point through the course of their illness. In some lung cancer patients, a lung tumor may grow too close to either of the bronchi, which may result in coughing up blood.
Bone pain is one of the main ways to detect lung cancer, however, it’s usually more common in advanced stages of lung cancer. Why would your bones hurt from lung cancer? Well, cancer cells in the lungs are more likely to spread to the bones than other parts of the body. The spread of lung cancer to the bones causes pain usually presents itself in your back and hips.
Pain in your back and hips can come from physical strain and joint pains, particularly if you are prone to bad posture and spend a lot of time at a desk. If you experience any sudden, persistent pain in your back, hips, or any other joints that cannot be explained by changes in physical activity, consult your doctor.
Headache and physical fatigue are common symptoms of many forms of cancer. Both of these symptoms come as a result of your immune system battling cancerous cells. It can be hard to determine if you have lung cancer just judging from these symptoms as they are so general and common among other illnesses unrelated to cancer. However, when taken in combination with some of the other symptoms, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor, especially if your headache and sense of fatigue do not go away.
What You Can Do
If you experience any of these symptoms or are concerned about your risk for lung cancer or general lung health for any other reason, consult your doctor. If you don’t have cancer, you get peace of mind and can treat what may be causing those symptoms. If you do have cancer, it is always better to get diagnosed as soon as possible so you can start seeking alternative cancer treatments.
Either way, a doctor can diagnose your condition and let you know for sure. If you have an increased risk of lung cancer, doctors may recommend regular screenings with a low-dose CT scan. A regular CT scan is usually recommended for heavy smokers age 55 or older because smoking poses a major lung cancer risk.
If you never smoked heavily but believe you may have lung cancer, your healthcare provider can use a variety of tests to make a diagnosis. There are genetic causes of lung cancer, so even if you think you aren’t victim to any of the risk factors, it’s still possible to be diagnosed. Imaging tests can provide a more in-depth look at your lungs to reveal the presence of any abnormal masses or small lesions. If you have a cough, your doctor can examine your spit and phlegm under a microscope and perform tests to determine the presence of cancerous cells. Your doctor may also choose to perform a biopsy, which involves taking tissue samples of your lungs, lymph nodes, or other areas where the cancer may have spread. The tissue can then be examined and tested to determine the extent of the cancer.
The first signs of lung cancer can be hard to spot. Some people may not present any symptoms at all. However, the sooner you are diagnosed with lung cancer, the sooner you can undergo necessary treatment to neutralize the cancer cells. If you notice anything wrong or concerning, consult your doctor immediately so you can avoid lung cancer.