Chest pain is the most obvious sign of lung cancer, but there are plenty of other signals you should know about - even if you've never smoked. Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer of both men and women, and up to 20% of people who die from it have never smoked at all.
Why might a nonsmoker get lung cancer? Exposure to radon (an odourless gas found in homes) is often to blame, explains Dr Robert McKenna, Jr., a thoracic surgeon at Providence Saint John's Health Centre in Santa Monica, CA. Other possible culprits include air pollution, secondhand smoke, and environmental hazards like asbestos.
Whether you smoke regularly or have never lit up in your life, keep an eye out for the following symptoms. Although there are plenty of less nefarious reasons why these issues might crop up, play it safe and discuss them with your doctor.
1\ A Lingering Cough
"The majority of people with lung cancer have a cough, occasionally with blood," says McKenna. Bringing up thick, rust-coloured mucus can also be an early sign. But even if you have a dry cough, if it's lingered for over a month, it's worth getting checked out.
2\ Chronic Infections
Most of the time, viruses are to blame for lung infections like chronic bronchitis. But if you're repeatedly getting sick and every illness seems to go straight to your chest, it could be a sign of cancer.
3\ Weight Loss
Dropping kilos without a change in your diet or workout? "As with any cancer," notes McKenna, "a more advanced tumour may make proteins that tell your body to lose weight." That's why you may also notice a drop in your appetite.
4\ Bone Pain
If lung cancer has spread to other organs in your body, you may feel an ache deep down in your bones or joints, says Dr Jack Jacoub, a medical oncologist and director of thoracic oncology at MemorialCare Cancer Institute at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley. The back and hips are common sore spots.
5\ Swelling In Your Face and Neck
If a lung tumour begins pressing against your superior vena cava (the large vein that carries blood from your head and arms to your heart), you may notice swelling in your neck and face, says Jacoub. Your arms and upper chest can also be affected.
6\ Overwhelming Fatigue
"This is different than feeling tired," Jacoub notes. "It's feeling so worn out that you can't wait to climb into bed," and getting lots of rest doesn't help. As many as 80% of people with cancer note "excessive tiredness" as a symptom.
7\ Muscle Weakness
Lung cancer affects your muscles as well as your organs. One of the first areas to be impacted: your hips. "You might find it hard to even get out of a chair," says Jacoub. Weakness in the shoulders, arms, and legs is also typical.
8\ High Calcium Levels
Certain lung cancers make hormone-like substances that upset the balance of minerals in your body. In some instances, says McKenna, excess calcium gets released into the bloodstream. While you may not realise your levels are through the roof until your doctor orders a lab test, you should notice the symptoms that go along with high calcium: frequent urination, excessive thirst, constipation, nausea, belly pain, and dizziness.
This article was originally published on Prevention.com