Early Signs of Lung Cancer


Lung cancer is quite painless until it's at an advanced stage. Once symptoms begin, it is usually too late for treatment. Lung cancer is usually not diagnosed until it is quite advanced due to the fact that the victim may simply think they are suffering from a common respiratory infection and decide not to seek medical attention. Smokers especially may ignore their worsening "smoker's cough," disregarding the signs that are happening to them. Unfortunately, this may prove to be a fatal mistake. When signs and symptoms of lung cancer appear, it is usually due to the fact that it has spread to other organs.


Pain may be present when breathing or laughing, and the victim may believe he has pneumonia or pleurisy when, in fact, he has advanced lung cancer that has most likely spread elsewhere in the body. Signs include: coughing up blood or rust-colored phlegm; a loss of appetite and weight loss along with fatigue; hoarseness of the voice and the onset of wheezing; shortness of breath (SOB); and frequent bouts of pneumonia, bronchitis and fevers.

Risk Factors

Smokers are at risk for getting lung cancer, although quitting smoking now reduces the risks. Other risk factors include: second-hand cigarette smoke; exposure to asbestos; breathing unhealthy levels of particulates over a period of time such as when you are living in a smog-filled city; and exposure to carcinogenic materials at work or where you live.

Advanced Symptoms

Yellowing of the whites of the eyes and the skin may be apparent; this is called jaundice. Other advanced symptoms include: pain in the bones; weakness or numbness of the limbs together with dizziness; masses appearing under the skin (epidermis) due to the spread of cancer through the lymph nodes in the neck above the collarbone; swelling of the face and neck; and rapid weight loss.

Initial Tests

At your appointment you will undergo a number of tests used to determine whether, in fact, you have lung cancer or if it is some other complaint. Chest x-rays, CT scans, sputum cytology (spit or phlegm testing) are the initial tests. On positive initial testing, the victim will undergo more accurate tests to establish how large the tumor (single or multiple) is and how far it has spread. When lung cancer has advanced, it often affects other organs. Unfortunately the victim, unaware of the actual root cause being lung cancer, seeks help for that complaint instead. Thorough testing often reveals the real cause too late for effective treatment.

Expert Insight

According to Health-Alliance, "Only about 15 percent of the lung cancer cases are found in the early stages, before the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes or elsewhere. The 5-year survival rate for people with lung cancer is 60 percent if there is no evidence of cancer in lymph nodes at the time of surgery" (see Resources).

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