Lung Cancer: Signs, Symptoms, Types and Staging

Lung Cancer: Signs, Symptoms, Types and Staging

Majority of the lung cancers are seen to be not showing any kinds of symptoms in the early stage of their formation. It is only after cancer has spread that the majority of people observe lung cancer symptoms. However, it is not rare to find patients who show early symptoms of lung cancer as well. The recommended action for the patient is to immediately visit a doctor. The faster the lung cancer will be diagnosed, the more fast and effective the treatment will be. As a result, the chance of curing lung cancer is very high when it is diagnosed at a very early stage. There are a lot of early lung cancer symptoms which are observed. The most common among them include-

  • Continuous coughing, that does not stop normally or gets worse with time.
  • Blood coming out while coughing and the color of the sputum, phlegm or spit are rusty.
  • Sudden pains in the chest which intensifies with coughing, laughing or deep and heavy breathing.
  • Feeling a sense of hoarseness throughout the day for days.
  • Sudden loss of weight or lack of appetite.
  • Problem with breathing or shortness of breath.
  • Feeling too weak or too tired for no reason.
  • Typical infections like pneumonia and bronchitis which occur frequently and keeps on coming back and does not go away easily once occurred.
  • Sudden and new onset of wheezing.

Lung cancers, like any other type of cancers, are potentially very dangerous. In case a patient fails to treat lung cancer in its early stage, it will slowly start spreading to the different organs in the body. This is very harmful to the body and causes various problems like-

  • Pain in the bone, like mainly in the bones located in the back, the shoulders and the hip bones.
  • Changes in the nervous system due to the spreading of cancer upto the spinal cord and even the brain. This further causes serious conditions like seizures, headaches, weakness, numbness in legs or arms, problems with maintaining body balance and sudden dizziness.
  • Jaundice or the occurrence of the yellow patch in the skin and mainly the eyes. This mainly happens when lung cancer has spread itself to the liver.
  • Formation of lumps in the various surfaces of the body. The collection of the cells consisting of the immune system of the body are affected, mainly the lymph nodes. When the lung cancer spreads to the skin, this causes the lump formation. It happens mainly above the collarbone and nearer to the surface of the neck.

These symptoms are quite common and they can be caused by a lot of other factors as well. That is, these are not exclusively lung cancer symptoms. Even then, it is important to find out the cause of these signs, whatever may be the case. Therefore, immediate visit to the doctor is highly recommended so that the cause can be found and the condition can be treated as fast as possible. In cases of lung cancer, the faster the treatment will be given, the effective the recovery will be.

Lung cancer symptoms

Sometimes, lung cancer can create various types of syndromes. These are nothing but very specific types of lung cancer symptoms, and thus they help to identify the cause to be lung cancer more vividly.

Horner Syndrome

The lung cancers that mainly occur on the top lung parts are sometimes known as the Pancoast tumors. This can further cause extensive damage to the nerves and thus affect various parts of the body, mainly the nerves to the face and eyes. This causes a great disturbance in the proper functioning of the facial muscles and the optical nerves and shows some typical symptoms. These symptoms of the Horner Syndrome mainly consists of-

  • Eyelids feel too heavy, or the eyelids feel too weak all of a sudden. Drooping of the eyelids is one of either eye or both of the eyes can also occur.
  • The pupil or the dark part that is located almost in the centre of the eye gets affected and as a result, it gets smaller.
  • The occurrence of sweat in the same side of one’s face may get drastically reduced or can be completely stopped.
  • With the occurrence of Pancoast tumors, extensive shoulder pain can be experienced from time to time.
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Superior Vena Cava Syndrome

The SVC or the superior vena cava is one of the largest veins present in the body whose main function is to carry the blood right from the head and the arms, all the way back to the heart for completing the cycle. The superior vena cava goes directly next to the upper portion of the right lung and the various lymph nodes that are located on the inside of the chest. Any tumors that occur in this area can directly affect the superior vena cava by pressing on it. This in turn can cause the proper blood flow to be disrupted in the veins. As a result of this, the swelling in various body parts can occur with the skin color being bluish red. Mainly the areas like the neck, upper chest, arms and the face are affected in this case.

Due to this, the patient may experience dizziness, headaches and can even lose their consciousness completely if any part of the brain gets affected. The development of the superior vena cava syndrome normally takes place with time, but in some cases the buildup is too fast. On such cases, patients need to visit doctors and get it treated as fast as possible as such situations may be life-threatening as well.

Paraneoplastic Syndromes

Many of the lung cancer types can sometimes create hormone like substances which can directly get into the bloodstream of the body. This in turn, can cause various serious issues with the distant organs and the tissues as well. Sometimes the cancer has not even reached or spread itself to those tissues or organs and they still get affected. The problems which are caused due to this are known as the paraneoplastic syndromes. A lot of times it has been seen that the paraneoplastic syndromes are the very first lung cancer symptoms that are seen. One of the complexities of this syndrome is that sometimes the symptoms affect many more organs apart from the lungs. This sometimes results in diverting the cause of the symptoms other than the various lung cancer types, and can create confusion.

There are various other paraneoplastic syndromes which can be considered as typical lung cancer symptoms. They are-

  • Syndrome of Inappropriate Anti Diuretic Hormone or SIADH – this condition mainly causes the various cancer cells to create and secrete the Anti-Diuretic Hormone or ADH which makes the kidneys to retain more water. As a result, the salt level of the blood gets significantly lowered. The various symptoms of the SIADH can consist of cramps or weakness in the muscle, appetite loss, extreme fatigue, vomiting, restlessness, nausea and a sense of confusion. If the treatment is ignored, conditions may turn as worst as seizures and can even lead to coma.
  • Cushing Syndrome – this particular condition causes the cancer cells to create the ACTH, which is a hormone that stimulates the secretion of cortisol by the adrenal glands. The various symptoms of this condition consist of sudden gain weight, easily getting bruised, drowsiness, weakness and retention of fluid. Additionally, high pressure of blood and high sugar of blood levels or diabetes can also be caused by the Cushing Syndrome.
  • Problems with Nervous System – the various lung cancer types can even make the immune system of the body to attack various parts of the nervous system. This obviously leads to various problems like the Lambert Eaton syndrome, which is a disorder of the muscles and the hip muscles become excessively weak. One early sign to identify this is having trouble to get up from sitting. With time, shoulder muscles and the adjacent muscles also become weak. In rare cases, paraneoplastic cerebellar degeneration occurs, where the patient may become unsteady and can experience loss of body balance and muscles may become excessively relaxed, thus creating a problem in walking, swallowing and even speaking.
  • Hypercalcemia – it causes the calcium levels present in the blood to be very high, and can cause frequent thirst, frequent urination, nausea with vomiting, constipation, weakness, pain in belly and abdomen, dizziness, confusion, fatigue and other types of problems related to the nervous system.
  • Thickening of Bones – certain bones in the body can get thickened with growth occurring in excess. It mainly occurs in the tips of the finger and can create a very painful experience.
  • Blood Clots – the clotting of the blood may also occur.
  • Gynecomastia – even cases like excess growth of the breast in men is not uncommon as a symptom.
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Even though these symptoms are all found in cases of lung cancer, other causes may create similar symptoms as well. Therefore, visiting a doctor to get proper and effective treatment is always important.

Various Types and Staging of Lung Cancer

There are mainly two major lung cancer types, mainly the Non Small Cell Lung Cancer or NSCLC and the Small Cell Lung Cancer or SCLC. The lung cancer staging is mainly dependent on the factor of the spreading of cancer, whether it has spread upto the other organs or is contained in local. Since the sizes of the lungs are quite large, it can take quite some time to detect the presence of tumors in them. The most common symptoms like fatigue and coughing are mostly overlooked by people, as the general idea is that the cause is something trivial. This is the main reason why lung cancer in its early stages, mainly stage I and stage II are very difficult to detect.

Non Small Cell Lung Cancer

The Non Small Lung Cancer type mainly comprises of a total of 85% of the lung cancer types. It mainly includes-

  • Adenocarcinoma – This is the most common type of lung cancer, among both women and men.
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma – this consists of a total of 25% of the various types of lung cancer.
  • Large Cell Carcinoma – this consists of a total of 10% of the NSCLC tumors.

Non Small Cell Lung Cancer Stages

  • Stage I – the location of this cancer is mainly localized on the lungs and has not yet spread to the lymph nodes.
  • Stage II – The cancer has spread to the adjacent lymph nodes.
  • Stage III – cancer has spread as far as the middle portion of the chest. There are two types of Stage III. The types are determined by the direction of spreading of cancer on the lymph nodes on a side of the chest, either same or opposite. In case of the same side, it is Stage IIIA and if the side is opposite, or the location is above the collar bone, it is Stage IIIB.
  • Stage IV – the most advanced stage of the lung cancer where cancer has spread to various other organs of the body, affected both the lungs and other parts of the body as well, is termed as the Stage IV.

Small Cell Lung Cancer

The Small Cell Lung Cancer is what consists of the remaining major type of lung cancer. This type grows much faster than the NSCLC tumors, and it usually responds much well to chemotherapy.

Small Cell Lung Cancer stages

  • The Limited Stage – in this particular stage of SCLC, the cancer is mainly located in only one side of chest. Therefore, just a small part of the lung and adjacent lymph nodes is affected.
  • The Extensive Stage – this particular stage is attained when the cancer has already spread to the various parts of the chest and the other body parts as well.

The staging system of lung cancer types is more detailed by the American Joint Commission on Cancer. In this particular system, the staging of the SCLC cancer is described by using various letters and numerals from the Roman alphabet, like Stage IIA. The staging of NSCLC cancer is done in the same way, where the advanced numbers and alphabets determine the growth of cancer.

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