Although lung cancer symptoms typically do not develop until the later stages of the disease, patients may notice certain warning signs that something is not quite right. Most patients live with their symptoms for a few months before they receive an official lung cancer diagnosis; as the disease progresses, the symptoms tend to intensify.
Symptoms that are reported when a patient first discusses his or her concerns with a physician are known as presenting symptoms. These initial symptoms of lung cancer often involve the respiratory system. For instance, patients may present with:
- A chronic cough
- Hoarseness and/or wheezing
- Dyspnea (shortness of breath)
- Coughing or spitting up blood
- Coughing or spitting up abnormally-colored phlegm or mucus
- Pain in the chest, shoulder or back
- Repeated bouts of bronchitis or pneumonia
- Stridor (harsh sounds when inhaling or exhaling)
Patients may also experience symptoms in other parts of the body, especially if their cancer has metastasized, or spread to lymph nodes or distant organs. Symptoms of metastasis include:
- Unexplained fever
- Weight loss and/or muscle loss
- Loss of appetite
- Fatigue and general weakness
- Neurological symptoms, such as memory loss
Because many lung cancer symptoms are similar to symptoms caused by less serious conditions, it can take some time for a physician to identify lung cancer as the exact culprit. Imaging scans (such as X-rays and CT scans) may be necessary to help pinpoint the underlying cause of a patient’s symptoms.
Lung cancer screening programs can help physicians diagnose certain patients before symptoms even develop. For instance, chest X-rays and sputum cytology can help identify abnormalities before they are symptomatic. At Moffitt Cancer Center, we offer comprehensive low-dose CT lung cancer screenings and surveillance programs for at-risk individuals. Clinical trials, including the NCI-Sponsored National Lung Screening Trial, have found that programs such as ours have been shown to increase patients’ chances of prompt, precise diagnoses, which have long been correlated with better outcomes.
For more information about our screening programs – or to schedule an appointment to discuss your lung cancer symptoms with our lung cancer team, call 1-888-MOFFITT today or request an appointment online.