Lung cancer – just the name of it sounds ominous. We may reason it could never happen to us - I don’t smoke or am even around others who do. Yet lung cancer can and does affect all different types of people and is the leading cancer killer in both men and women in the U.S.
The survival outlook for lung cancer isn’t the best. Lung cancer’s five-year survival rate is 17.7 percent which is lower than many other leading cancers – colon has a five-year survival rate of 64.4 percent, breast – 89.7 percent, and prostate – 98.9 percent.
The key to increasing survival rate for lung cancer is to be diagnosed at an early stage when the disease is still localized or within the lungs. Generally, most people by the time they are diagnosed with it, it has already metastasized or spread beyond the lungs making it very difficult to control at that point.
By being aware of and knowing possible signs of lung cancer may help save your life if detected early. If lung cancer is caught before it spreads, the likelihood of surviving 5 years or more improves to 55 percent.
Here are 7 warning signs that could signal lung cancer – the sooner a person can see their physician for further investigation, the greater the chance of catching it at an early, more survivable stage:
1. Persistent cough or hoarseness
Anytime anyone has a cough that just won’t go away, they need to see their doctor. Even if it started out as a result of a cold, if a person continues to have dry or productive cough along with a raspy, hoarse voice lasting longer than eight weeks with no other apparent cause, it needs to be addressed.
2. Shortness of breath
When a person suddenly finds themselves short of breath, wheezing, or becoming winded when performing activities that normally haven’t been a problem, it should be interpreted as a warning sign of something wrong.
Having shortness of breath can be due to many causes other than lung cancer. But if a person is already at a high risk of lung cancer, the sooner it is checked out the better.
3. Weight loss and loss of appetite
Unexplained or unanticipated weight loss without trying to lose weight is always a warning sign of something not right. It does not automatically mean lung cancer but unplanned weight loss needs to be addressed. Usually a decrease in appetite tends to accompany weight loss and together this could be a sign of a cancer tumor. Even though everything else may be fine, the body is working hard to heal a tumor that keeps growing while causing a greater calorie burn.
Cancer-related weight loss is called cachexia and usually occurs when a person has made no significant dietary or exercise habits. In extreme cases, it can cause the body to literally waste away as it uses up muscle mass and body fat in search of all possible sources of energy.
4. Chest pain
Experiencing chest pain deep in the lungs particularly when lifting something, coughing or laughing could be a sign of lung cancer. If the pain becomes persistent this could indicate a growing tumor pressing against surrounding tissues and nerve endings as it increases in size.
5. Coughing up blood or rust-colored sputum
It is never a good sign when a person coughs up blood or blood in phlegm. It may not necessarily be a sign of lung cancer but it does need to be brought to the attention of a doctor.
Usually by the time a person may be coughing up blood, they have also been having symptoms of shortness of breath, pain in the chest or a persistent fever.
6. Feeling tired or weak
Experiencing tiredness or weakness can mean a lot of different things. But anytime one notices a dramatic reduction in energy levels to the point that it is a major struggle to get things done either at work or home, this does indicate something is going on and it could be a sign of cancer.
As cancer advances, it is taking a toll on the body’s energy system which leads to feelings of tiring easily and feeling weaker than usual.
7. Reoccurring bronchitis or pneumonia
Bronchitis is the inflammation of the bronchi, the main air passages to the lungs. It tends to occur after a viral respiratory infection and can be either short-lived (acute) or chronic. Chronic bronchitis is where a person is producing excessive mucus when coughing and where it has lasted most days of the month for at least 3 months. Pneumonia can develop from either acute or chronic bronchitis.
Suffering from either reoccurring bronchitis or pneumonia needs to be looked into as to why they keep coming back. A doctor should do a thorough work up of labs and imaging testing to rule out lung cancer.