Did you know that lung cancer is one the leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women? About one in four people will develop lung cancer in their lifetime. Fortunately, treatment is more effective the earlier lung cancer is detected. If you start to notice any of these symptoms, please reach out to your doctor to be sure.
- Coughing up Blood
Lung cancer or not, coughing up blood is never, ever a good sign. If and when you realize that you are coughing up blood, you need to see your doctor immediately. According to Raja Flores, MD, professor, and chairman of thoracic surgery at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, coughing up blood isn’t necessarily an indicator of lung cancer, but it is an indication that medical treatment is needed urgently.
- Chest Pains
While chest pains are normally associated with heart attack symptoms, chest, back, or shoulder pains that do not go away are a sign of lung cancer. If you notice a feeling of tightness, sharp pain that only gets worse with deep breaths or coughs, as well as laughter, see your doctor. “You feel pain where the tumor is located,” says Dr. Flores. “If the tumor is to the side, you’ll feel pain on your side, if it is towards the back of the chest, you will feel pain on your back.” In any case, any time of chest or lung pain warrants a trip to the doctor, just in case.
- Persistent Cough
A coughing fit could be a result of allergies, a cold, or even just food or water going down the wrong pipe. However, if that cough never seems to let up or go away, it could be a sign of something more sinister and serious like lung cancer. “Cancer is the airway can irritate your throat and make you a cough,” says Dr. Flores. “There’s something in there that’s not supposed to be there, so your body is trying to get rid of it.” Cancer can also produce mucus, which only exacerbates a cough and makes it worse.
- Shortness of Breath
If you become suddenly winded after climbing the stairs, or after your daily walk around the block, it could be a symptom of lung cancer. Short distances that suddenly leave you gasping for air are indications that you are either out of shape or suffering from lung cancer. “Shortness of breath can come from a tumor blocking the windpipe. It can also stem from an accumulation of fluid in the chest that pushes on the lung and leaves you with a lack of air,” says Dr. Flores. When cancer forms in the lining of the lungs, it causes fluid to build up in your chest; and even though your chest is capable of holding between three to four liters of fluid, when it completely fills up, the lungs are unable to get enough air, he says. Trouble breathing when you are sitting or lying down is also a sign of serious trouble.
- Feeling Fatigued
We all experience fatigue every now and then, however, if you start to feel run down without having made any changes to your daily routine, it could be a sign of cancer. “It may not specifically signal lung cancer, but it is a definite red flag that something is not right,” says Dr. Flores. Weight loss and loss of appetite are also a sign of lung cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Smoking, a family history of cancer, and asbestos exposure also increase your risk of developing lung cancer.
- An Asthma Diagnosis
Suffering from asthma is by no means a guarantee that you will get lung cancer. However, if you have been diagnosed with asthma past childhood, it is a good idea to get screened for lung cancer, says Dr. Flores. “It is an unusual symptom, but it is something to keep in the back of your mind if you are a young adult or older adult and just got diagnosed with asthma,” he says. “Pulmonologists often listen to your lungs, hear wheezing, and treat it as asthma; but it is a good idea to get a scan to make sure there is not a tumor in there, which could be causing a blockage.”
- Overall Body Pain
Lung cancer typically does not present symptoms until the later stages of cancer. This means that it’s possible for lung cancer to go undiagnosed until it’s spread to other parts of the body. Symptoms like headaches, dizziness, and balance problems, or even numbness in the limbs can mean that cancer has spread to the brain or spinal cord. Yellowing of the skin and eyes could be a sign that it has spread to the liver, and lumps on the body could mean the disease has spread to the skin or lymph nodes, according to the American Cancer Society.