Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women. The American Cancer Society projects that by the end of 2016, around 224,390 new cases of lung cancer will be diagnosed, and there will be about 158,080 deaths due to this disease. Men have a 1 in 14 chance of developing cancer of the lung, while a woman’s risk is 1 in 17. While smoking greatly increases the risk of developing this kind of cancer, these statistics include both smokers and non-smokers.
Lung cancer should always be regarded as extremely serious. In some cases, it can be fatal. However, knowing the signs and symptoms is vital to catching it early enough to be treated.
Here are 8 early warning signs of lung cancer you should never ignore:
1. A Cough That Won’t Subside
Coughing is usually associated with a cold or respiratory infection. These illnesses usually go away within a week or two. A persistent cough that won’t go away may be a sign of lung cancer, especially if the cough continues to get worse. However, it could be a sign of other illnesses, some not as severe as cancer, but nevertheless you should visit your doctor. You should never dismiss a cough that won’t subside. In fact, frequent lung infections, like bronchitis or pneumonia, may be a sign of lung cancer.
2. Changes in Cough
If you’re coughing more often and your cough feels deeper or has a hoarse sound, it’s time to visit a doctor. Other cough symptoms that may be associated with cancer of the lung are coughing up blood or coughing up more mucus than usual. Bear in mind that, as stated above, a severe cough isn’t necessarily always indicative of cancer. This includes any minor changes in your cough. Visit the doctor anyway, as there could be something just as serious at play. This is especially true if you are coughing up blood.
3. Breathing Difficulty
If lung cancer blocks or narrows an airway, or if fluid from a lung tumor begins to build up in the chest, you’ll experience shortness of breath. This can manifest doing the simplest of normal daily activities. For example, if you become winded by carrying groceries, walking short distances or performing normal household tasks, make an appointment with a health care professional. It could just be that you’re out of shape, but if it comes on suddenly, there could be something more severe causing it.
4. Chest Pain
Most of us experience daily wear and tear that results in aches and pains. As such, it can be easy to dismiss this particular set of symptoms. However, cancer in the lung can lead to pain in the chest, shoulders or back. Whether the pain is sharp and consistent or dull and off-and-on, be sure to tell your doctor right away. Chest pain can be indicative of many health problems, however–cancer is just one of them.
You may also notice chest pain that worsens when breathing, either in or out. This can be a sign of lung cancer. However, it can also be a sign of other far less severe conditions, such as pleurisy, which is an inflammation of the lungs. Be sure to get it checked out by a doctor either way.
When airways become blocked, restricted or inflamed, you’ll notice a wheezing or whistling sound when breathing. Wheezing can also be a sign of asthma or allergies, but it’s best to have a health care professional find out for sure. This is especially true if you’ve never experienced allergies or have never been diagnosed with asthma.
6. Raspy, Hoarse Voice
If you begin to notice a change in your voice — a deeper, raspier or more hoarse tone — make an appointment with a doctor. Hoarseness can be caused by a cold, but if this symptom is persistent, it can be related to cancer. Additionally, you may notice swollen lymph nodes. While this can accompany a cold or other less severe illness, it can also be a sign of lung cancer.
7. Unexplained Weight Loss
Most of us gain and lose here and there, but an unexplained weight loss of ten pounds or more may be associated with health problems, including lung cancer. Cancer cells can use up energy in the body and even shift the way the body uses food for energy. If you haven’t done anything to lose weight and you’ve dropped a significant amount, there might be a problem.
You may also notice an inexplicable change in your appetite, in the form of a loss of appetite. Weakness and/or extreme fatigue may accompany this symptom.
8. Bone Pain
Cancer in the lungs may not present many symptoms until it has spread. Cancer that has spread to the bones may produce pain in the back or in other areas of the body. It may also worsen at night. As mentioned above, this kind of cancer can cause back or chest pain. Additionally, lung cancer has a link with shoulder, arm or neck pain. It’s one thing to experience mild aches and pains in these areas–it’s a part of every day life for some of us. If you’re experiencing something more than minor aches, however, it’s time to consult a professional.