Lung cancer is common condition in many countries, including in the U.S. It can affect both women and men almost equally (it is not gender-specific disease, though it affect slightly more men than women). Like other cancers, catching it as early as possible is also important. Are there any early signs and symptoms of the disease?
The lungs are two spongy organs located in the chest. They play a key role in the respiratory system to help take in O2 (oxygen, when we inhale) and release CO2 (carbon dioxide, when we exhale). It works together with other organs of the respiratory system, including mouth & nose, trachea (windpipe), and airways to the lungs.
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As the name suggests, lung cancer is a primary cancer that occur in the lungs. Primary means the cancer starts to grow from original cells in the lungs.
There is also a term called secondary lung cancer. It is used for cancer cells from other parts in the body that spread to the lungs. So, primary and secondary cancers are different – and treated differently, too! And what we are talking about in this section is primary lung cancer.
It is life-threatening condition. For example, in the U.S, it is the leading cause of death related to cancer. It takes more lives each year than do prostate, ovarian, and colon cancers combined!
The exact cause is not clear, but many cases of the disease are linked to cigarette smoking. Both active smoking and secondhand smoke can increase the risk.
But in a few cases it also affects non-smokers, including those who never had prolonged exposure to cigarette smoke (secondhand smoke). For such cases, the cause of the problem is more difficult to understand.
There are several types. Based on the appearance of primary cancer cells in the lungs under the microscope, there are two major types; small cell and non-small cell lung cancer.
Small cell type usually occurs in smokers, especially for heavy smokers. It is rare to found this type in non-smokers.
Non-small cell type can affect both smokers and non-smokers. It is more common than small cell type. It consists of several types; large cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma (they are different but behave in a similar way).
However it’s not easy to catch it at its early stages. Although screening tests are recommended for those with many risk factors of the disease, but in fact there are still many patients diagnosed at late stages.
In some cases, the disease can be diagnosed early. But many of these cases are also diagnosed accidentally (as a results of tests for other health conditions).
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When it comes to the early symptoms of lung cancer, there is usually no specific difference between in women and men.
Even again in most cases, this cancer usually doesn’t cause any early sign. The symptom is likely to occur when the disease is at advanced stages. Even if the symptoms do occur, they are also often mistaken for other problems, delaying the diagnosis.
Understanding the warning signs and symptoms of this cancer are intended to help you keep alert and see a doctor promptly if you in-doubt to any symptom you’re having. Sometime early lung cancer can lead to several early signs and symptoms, these may include:
- Coughing, especially if you have a persistent cough (it doesn’t go away or even gets worse).
- Breathless (shortness of breath). Lung cancer makes you short of breath for several reasons.
- Coughing up sputum, particularly if it comes with blood (rust-colored sputum).
- Discomforts in the chest or/and shoulder such as ache and pain. Typically, this symptom worsens with coughing, laughing, or deep breathing.
- ‘More-vogue’ early symptoms such as weight loss with unknown reason, appetite loss, fatigue, weakness, or tiredness.
Unfortunately, these signs can also be attributed by other medical conditions. Overall, it is difficult to determine whether or not you have lung cancer if you only rely on the symptoms. But you should seek help if you have one or some of them, particularly if they last longer than you expect or if they get worse!
In women, small cell lung cancer is not common, because most of them are not smokers. In fact, smoking is more common in men than in women.
The most common type of lung cancer in women is adenocarcinoma, a cancer that develops from mucus creating cells in the lining of the airways. Since it usually grows in the outer areas of the lungs, over time it is relatively easier to cause shoulder and back pain (it will be large enough to put more pressure to other organs and nerves around the lungs).
The following other lung cancer symptoms are usually found when the disease at its advanced stages: