According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), most types of lung cancer do not cause symptoms until they have spread to other areas.
However, some people experience subtle symptoms during the earlier stages of the disease.
The early lung cancer symptoms that we describe below usually result from some other cause. However, people who experience these symptoms should consider visiting their doctors as a precautionary measure.
Sudden weight loss
They estimate that 40% of people who receive a cancer diagnosis experience unexplained weight loss during that time.
Cancer can cause weight loss for many reasons, including:
- changes to immune function
- changes to metabolism
- changes to hormones
- a sudden loss of appetite
- difficulty swallowing
Shortness of breath
Shortness of breath and wheezing can also be early symptoms of lung cancer.
Some people may experience a slight cough in addition to shortness of breath. Others may have difficulty catching their breath but have no cough.
A slight cough that does not go away can indicate early stage lung cancer. Some people assume that this cough is only a result of smoking.
A person who regularly coughs because of another lung condition may notice changes in their cough, and these can likewise indicate lung cancer.
Also, a cough that produces blood may result from lung cancer or another issue with the lungs. Anyone who experiences this symptom should see a doctor.
Lung cancer can cause the number of red blood cells in the body to drop. The medical term for this issue is anemia.
Because red blood cells carry oxygen, a person with anemia may not take in enough oxygen to support their body’s needs. This can result in tiredness and fatigue. Severe fatigue can make it difficult to function on a day-to-day level.
Shoulder, chest, or back pain
Most people with lung cancer do not feel pain or other symptoms during the early stages. This is because there are very few nerve endings in the lungs.
However, pain can occur when lung cancer invades the chest wall, ribs, vertebrae, or certain nerves. For example, Pancoast tumors, which form at the very top of the lungs, often invade nearby tissues, causing shoulder pain.
As a tumor develops, a person may begin to feel pain in their:
A person with lung cancer or another respiratory disease may develop a hoarse, raspy voice.
This can happen if a tumor presses on the laryngeal nerve, which is located within the chest. When the nerve is compressed, it can paralyze a vocal cord, causing the voice to change.
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