Lung cancer is one cancer that does not have a high early diagnosis rate, causing many patients to suffer from its negative effects before they even realise they have it. This is one cancer that needs early detection for a better prognosis – let’s understand why a cancer in the lung commonly goes undetected for long and what are the signs which can help a person get diagnosed at an early stage.
Why lung cancer symptoms get ignored
There are two main reasons why cancer in the lungs does not get diagnosed in time or the symptoms are ignored:
- Vague symptoms – A major barrier towards identifying signs of this cancer is the fact that most symptoms tend to be nonspecific. They could be easily misunderstood for common respiratory problems. This does not set off an alarm in the patient that this could be something more dangerous. Key lies in paying attention to chest symptoms that do not go away after a reasonable time and supposed treatment.
- Patient guilt – A sad yet true situation that affects many patients is the guilt and hopelessness they feel regarding any negative impact on their health, as they attribute it to their own bad lifestyle choices, i.e. smoking. While most cancers have some lifestyle cause, cancer of the lungs is the only one that makes a patient feel they self-inflicted it upon themselves. This feeling of guilt sometimes does not motivate many to take quick action.
Symptoms that must NOT be avoided
The following symptoms could signal a developing cancer in the lung:
#1 Persistent cough
This is usually the first sign of cancer of the lungs. A cold or respiratory tract infection will cause cough that goes away in a couple of weeks, but in case the cough fails to go away, it should be consulted with a doctor. Smokers generally develop a chronic cough that is deeper and more frequent – it is easy to dismiss cough if a person has had it for so long. However, once blood starts to show with the cough, it could signal cancer.
#2 Blood in sputum
When blood starts coming out of mouth when the patient coughs, also called as hematuria, is a late symptom of lung cancer. However, the patient should visit the lung specialist or cancer specialist as early as possible.
#3 Shortness of breath
Falling short of breath while doing simple tasks or tasks that were easily done before but no more could also signal cancer. A lung tumour can block or narrow down airways or fill fluids in the chest. This is a subtle symptom that is easy to miss, but if a person starts panting while doing very basic tasks, it is time to get it checked.
#4 Chest pain
A cancer in the lung can also cause chest pain that is felt in the back or shoulder, or even in the bones. If the chest pain does not disappear after adequate rest, it must be shown to a doctor.
#5 Wheezing or changes in voice
A wheezing sound from the lungs every time a person breathes could be asthma, or could be a sign of developing cancer in the airways. Similarly, if a person suddenly develops a hoarse or deeper voice, one might dismiss it as a side effect of a cold, but did the cold clear up but not the voice? It is time to have it checked.
#6 Recurring chest infections
A pneumonia or bronchitis that doesn’t respond well to treatment or keeps returning frequently could be more than a simple chest infection. It could be a sign of poor lung function, or worse cancer.
#7 Other generic symptoms that could indicate lung trouble
Weakness, loss of appetite, fatigue and weight loss are such commonplace symptoms that one might skip them. A persistent presence of these symptoms could be cancer.
It is important for people to know that though cancer afflicting the lung may not be as easy to detect as some others, keeping a check on one’s respiratory health, especially if a person is at high-risk, can enable early diagnosis. Seek timely intervention for a positive prognosis!
Image courtesy of [David Castillo Dominici] at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
“Lung cancer: ‘My advice to patients is not to ignore the symptoms. If something is there, it’s not going to go away on its own’” WalesOnline.co.uk, Jonathan Evans, October 22, 2014, https://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/local-news/lung-cancer-my-advice-patients-7976537
“It’s time to stop ignoring lung cancer,” TheGuardian.com, Joanna Moorhead, October 22, 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/healthcare-network/2014/oct/22/lung-cancer-improving-treatment-screening
“Symptoms of lung cancer,” NHS.uk, https://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Cancer-of-the-lung/Pages/Symptoms.aspx