Like with a lot of types of cancer, lung cancer generally doesn’t give any indication that it is present in your body. It doesn’t cause symptoms that you can see or feel that will let you know immediately that it is this type of cancer, and the other symptoms that you may be developing might be very different than what you expect when you think of cancer.
In later stages, you will indeed get some of the symptoms we all envision when we think of lung diseases, like wheezing, chest pain, and the never-pleasing cough. But until you get to these or accompany them, there are a lot of less known side effects that can show up that you may disregard at first glance.
Generally, we are prone to ignoring all types of symptoms until they get really bad, but when these types of reactions can lead to you losing your life, you should definitely not treat them lightly. Obviously, these aren’t just cancer symptoms, but with lung cancer, it is better to know what to look for than to disregard any of these, at times, common symptoms as something trivial.
Keep on reading to find out some of the lesser-known yet important symptoms of lung cancer, and let us know if you knew about them beforehand!
#1 Lung Cancer’s (or any type of cancer) Dead Giveaway: Weight Change
There are two things that can happen to people who develop small-cell lung cancer (and it stays true for other types of cancer as well).
They can end up developing Cushing’s syndrome, which will make them gain weight because the cancer will convince your body to make too many ACTH hormones, which will raise the level of cortisol in your body. This will lead to a lot of fluid retention and increased and rapid weight gain, along with the fact that you will bruise easily and feel drowsy.
On the other end of the spectrum, you can develop hypercalcemia (a disorder that will make you have way too much calcium in your blood), and SIADH (a hormonal issue that affects your kidneys) will end up making you lose your appetite, which in turn will make you shed pounds like crazy despite you not even trying.
While some may see this as a good thing, drastic and sudden weight changes are never a good sign, and if this sounds like you or someone you know, it is high time you start looking into what is causing this weight fluctuation before it becomes too serious.
#2 Mental Health Issues
We all know that being diagnosed with cancer will end up taking a big toll on your mental health. But what a Danish study has revealed is that there is an actual correlation between cancer and mental health way before you get a diagnosis. Researchers found out that there is an increased risk for people to develop small cell lung cancer if they had gone to see a mental health professional for the first time in that year.
This is because people who have gone to get treated for anxiety, depression, or dementia ended up being diagnosed the same year with this type of cancer. It seems to be because this type of lung cancer directly impacts your hormones or immune system, and it can spread all the way to the brain, messing things up there as well.
Moreover, due to it being very closely linked with high calcium levels, if you aren’t yet diagnosed, these high levels can cause muddled thinking, confusion, and may even trigger depression. It’s not 100% certain that all people who have these mental health issues also have cancer, but it does show that cancer can impact our mental well-being way before we realize we live with the disease.
#3 Stomach Problems
Almost 2 people out of 10 that have cancer end up developing hypercalcemia, which is a condition that causes you to have very high calcium levels in your blood. This can end up giving you stomach problems, which manifest as painful cramps and belly aches and can make you nauseated or constipated.
This condition can also curb your appetite and make you really thirsty. It may not sound like anything related to lung cancer, but many patients actually end up developing hypercalcemia. Others end up having the tumors make a hormone-like substance that will mess with your kidneys, which in turn can give you more cramps and nausea. It’s something to keep an eye out for, especially if you know you haven’t eaten anything weird lately and if it keeps persisting.
#4 Swollen Breasts in Men
While it is quite rare for lung cancer to cause gynecomastia, it is still a possibility, and it shouldn’t be ignored as it is a symptom. For men who develop large cell lung cancer, their hormonal balance can be thrown off, which in turn will cause the breast tissue to swell and be tender. It may sound funny to some, but it’s a very telling sign that something is definitely off, and men who experience these symptoms should seek medical help immediately.
#5 Being Off-Balance
Small cell lung cancer (which is hard to pinpoint due to all the other side effects it causes) can trick your immune system into attacking your nervous system; this can manifest in your muscles no longer working properly. It can cause you to have difficulty standing up from a seated position or just throw your balance off completely, making you unsteady on your feet.
It can add to your anemia, making you even dizzy. Or you could end up being off-balance and dizzy due to your superior vena cava being blocked; blood wouldn’t effectively travel between your heart and head due to a tumor in your upper right lung, and this can end up causing you way more problems. If your sense of balance starts to be affected, it would be a good idea to go check in with a doctor.
#6 Aching Joints and Weakness
When lung cancer metastasizes (meaning it gets so advanced that it spreads throughout the body), the cancerous cells end up traveling to your bones and through your blood to other parts of your body, where they form new tumors or lesions. They will attack your bones, making them way more fragile and easy to break, as well as generally painful due to the damage they sustain and even cause a mineral imbalance from hypercalcemia or SIADH, which will make you hurt all over and feel overall weak.
If they end up affecting your nervous system, you can end up with weak muscles, which will make everything that we think about every day difficult: even easy tasks like swallowing or even speaking! If you start to feel all your joints aching, or you’re generally getting more aches and sometimes feel weak, you shouldn’t just ignore these symptoms.
#7 Heart Issues
Hypercalcemia and anemia are two common diseases associated with non-small cell lung cancer that can be developed due to cancer, but even before you can catch them or realize you have them, they can end up affecting your heart: they can cause an irregular or fast heartbeat.
If you have severe anemia, it can cause you to have shortness of breath and even chest pains as a side effect of the tumors. Likewise, severe hypercalcemia will come with heart issues, and it can cause you to have a heart attack and even send you into a coma. If you suspect something is wrong, you should see a specialist as fast as possible so you can prevent any severe reactions.
#8 Back and Shoulder Pain
Pancoast tumor is a rare type of lung cancer in which small tumors grow in the upper part of your lungs before spreading to your ribs, down all the vertebrae in your spine, to your blood vessels, and even to your nervous system. Because they are so small when compared to other types of tumors and because of where they are located, they rarely end up affecting your respiratory system, which makes them hard to detect.
This type of lung cancer is more likely to cause you pain in your shoulders and upper back, and you can develop pain in your arms and other symptoms way before you’d have any problems with your lungs. This is why you should never ignore these types of pain, as you can never know what could be causing them.
#9 Easily Ignored Lung Cancer Sign: Problems with Your Eyes
Also associated with Pancoast tumors, they can not only localize pain and trouble in your shoulders and back, but they can affect the nerves pretty badly as well. This can end up causing problems with parts of your face and even your eyes! It’s called Horner syndrome, and it can end up causing your eyelids to droop, among other symptoms. You will definitely be tipped off that something is wrong, as another common one is not sweating on that side of your face with the affected eyelid.
This type of small-cell lung cancer may be rare, but it is a slow killer that affects your nervous system pretty badly, and it can be confused with something else, especially since it can give you problems with seeing as well. A good course of action is to go see a specialist when you think that something is wrong and not wait for it to get worse.
#10 Extremely Puffy Face, Neck, or Arm
If there is a tumor on your vena cava, then there is a high chance that it will stop the blood flow as the tumor will end up choking the vein. When that happens, blood from the upper part of your body has nowhere else to go since its normal circulation is obstructed. This is why you should keep an eye out if you have puffy arms, neck, or even face for an extended period of time: these parts of your body will swell from the extra fluid that is just waiting to pass through.
This is a sign of lung cancer that generally ends up being chalked up as something else, but you should be very careful as, even if it’s not this type of cancer, it’s still a sign of a serious health problem. Not to mention, if you observe this type of puffiness and then you also see that the skin on your chest is getting a blue-red tint, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.
Read more about generally encountered early signs of cancer that you shouldn’t put aside here!
…And for some great tips on how to fight lung cancer or any other types, we highly suggest reading: Beat Cancer Kitchen: Deliciously Simple Plant-Based Anticancer Recipes