Pancoast Tumor Symptoms

There are several characteristic Pancoast tumor symptoms that a patient might experience. These symptoms rarely involve the respiratory system, even though these tumors are a type of lung cancer. Instead, most patients with Pancoast tumors experience shoulder pain, arm pain and muscle weakness. In some cases, they may also experience tingling and sensation loss.

Shoulder pain is one of the most common symptoms of a Pancoast tumor. The pain typically develops as the tumor invades one or more of the nearby structures, such as:

  • The ribs
  • The brachial plexus (the nerve fibers that run downward from the spine)
  • The parietal pleura (the highly sensitive outer layer of the membrane that protects the lungs)
  • The endothoracic fascia (the fibrous tissue that separates the chest wall from the diaphragm and the pleura)

As the tumor continues to spread, so can the pain. Patients with advanced Pancoast tumors may feel discomfort in their arms, between their shoulder blades or radiating into their upper back. Patients whose tumors have spread into the scalene muscles may also feel pain in their armpit.

When a Pancoast tumor compresses or irritates the nerves in the sympathetic nervous system, patients may also experience flushing and/or excessive sweating on the face. Physicians occasionally refer to these complications as Pancoast syndrome. These symptoms typically only affect one side of the face – the same side where the tumor is causing the compression – and can develop long before cancerous cells actually invade nearby tissues.

Some patients also experience a tingling or prickly feeling in their hands. This symptom, sometimes referred to as paresthesia, is also the result of nerve compression. In advanced cases, this compression can lead to permanent sensation loss.

Approximately 40 percent of patients with a Pancoast tumor also develop the symptoms of Horner’s syndrome. Horner’s syndrome is characterized by several complications of its own, including drooping eyelids and decreased pupil size. 

If you’ve been experiencing Pancoast tumor symptoms, Moffitt is here for you. We’ll help you determine the cause of your symptoms and get you started on a treatment path. Call 1-888-663-3488 or complete a new patient registration form. No referral is necessary to see our lung cancer team.