Most people with lung cancer don't experience any symptoms in the early stages - and even in the later stages, many of the signs are easy to mistake for something else. Common symptoms include a stubborn cough that lasts several weeks, repeated chest infections, coughing up blood, and unexplained weight loss - but there are lesser-known signs to watch for too...
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1. Shoulder, chest or back pain
A specific type of tumour located in the upper part of the lungs can sometimes damage a nerve that runs from the upper chest to the neck, causing severe pain in the shoulder, armpit, or radiating down the arm. But any persistent pain in the chest, shoulders or back that can't be explained by strain or injury could signal lung cancer - particularly if it gets worse with deep breathing, laughing or coughing.
2. Low mood or anxiety
Researchers have found a surprising link between depression and anxiety and lung cancer in recent years. One study found that major depressive illness heralded a diagnosis in 16% of lung cancer patients. As yet, experts are unsure why the two are connected, but if you suffer with low mood or anxeity, it's worth seeing your GP.
If you find yourself huffing and puffing when you climb a flight of steps and it's not due to general unfitness or asthma, it could be a sign of something more serious. According to Cancer Research UK, difficulty breathing or dyspnoea affects 90% of people with advanced lung cancer and between 50-70% of all cancer patients at some point during their illness. Trouble breathing when you're sitting or lying down, or drawing a deep breath when exerting yourself, can signal a problem.
4. Finger clubbing
If you suffer with a painful thickening and reddening of the ends of your fingers and nails, it's important to get it checked out. Sometimes mistaken for arthritis, finger clubbing can occur in people with heart or lung problems. It's estimated that the condition affects around 35% of people with non small cell lung cancer and 4% of those with small cell lung cancer.
5. A husky voice
Many smokers dismiss huskiness as part of a "smoker's cough," but changes to your voice shouldn't be ignored. Along with a hoarse voice, some people find that they have to clear their throat frequently and produce more saliva. While smokers are the biggest at-risk group, around 15% of lung cancer cases are in non-smokers.
Some 90% of people suffered with debilitating fatigue before they were diagnosed with lung cancer diagnosis according to a 2011 report in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management. If you feel continually exhausted and can't put it down to anything obvious – such as insomnia, work stress or having just run a marathon – it's worth seeing your doctor.
7. Muscle weakness
If carrying the weekly shop has become a struggle in the past few weeks, you may decide that you're just under the weather. But persistent muscle weakness shouldn't be ignored, as it can be an early sign of certain types of lung cancer. Although rare, Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome (an autoimmune disease that disrupts transmission of nerve messages to muscles), is caused by small-cell lung cancer in 50% of cases.