Lung Cancer – The Signs and Symptoms

Cancer, one of the most deadly diseases known to human kind, is actually a disease of cells, the basic unit of a living body. Cancer is caused due to abnormally high rate of cell division in a particular organ or tissue system of the human body.  In a normally functioning organ or tissue, cell division is a controlled process. The process of mitosis (cell division) occurs in the organ only when new cells are needed. Cell division is a process of check and balance, which helps maintain the proper structure and function of the organ or tissue. However, disruption of this check and balance process, can result in uncontrolled cell division, that eventually forms a mass of proliferated cells, known as tumour.

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is due to uncontrolled cell division in the pulmonary cells. As mentioned earlier, uncontrolled cell division results in the formation of tumours. Tumours can be benign or malignant in nature. Benign tumours are non-cancerous and can be easily removed by operation.

Lung Cancer

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However, cancerous tumours are malignant in nature, and possess the property of metastasis. Metastasis is the phenomenon of breakage of few tumour cells, from the mother tumour, developed in the lung, which are eventually carried by the blood stream to other organs of the body, where these tumour cells again build new colonies or tumours.  Indeed, it is due to the property of metastasis of malignant tumour cells that lung cancer, so to say any cancer, spreads from one organ of the body to another. Though lung cancer can spread to any part of the body, some organs like bone, brain, liver and adrenal glands, are most vulnerable to lung cancer metastasis. Also, the lung is a common organ for metastasis by tumours from other organs of the body. For example, primary cells from prostrate cancer tumours, often build secondary tumours in the lungs.

Though every pulmonary cell can potentially be affected by lung cancer, it is the pulmonary epithelial cells that are most susceptible to this killer disease. The pulmonary cells formed due to uncontrolled cell division in the epithelial tissue of the lung, are not functional in nature. They are undernourished with incompletely developed cell organelles and are thus unable to carry out the function of the normal lung epithelial cells. Also, the presence of malignant cancer cells in the epithelial tissues, robs the normal cells of the nourishment and nutrients provided to it by the lymphatic system, thus reducing their functionality. Thus lung cancer basically affects the functioning of the entire organ, such that, during the final stages of this disease, the entire lung is rendered useless.

Though second only to brain cancer in terms of death per annum, several treatments for lung cancer has been developed in the recent years. However all these treatments necessitate lung cancer to be indentified in its initial stages, when the symptoms are less intense and comparatively easy to cure. Thus, in order to deal with lung cancer, it is necessary for one to be aware of the early symptoms of this disease:

Symptoms of Lung Cancer

Symptoms of lung cancer varies from person to person depending upon how widespread the tumour is and which part of the lung is affected. Unlike cancer in other organs of the body, warning signals are often absent in case of lung cancer.

Symptoms of lung cancer maybe categorised as follows:

  • Symptoms due to Formation of Malignant Tumour in Pulmonary Cells

Breathing is affected when cancer spreads in the pulmonary cells and the adjoining tissues of the lungs. This results in symptoms like Hemoptysis (coughing of blood), chest pain, wheezing sounds while breathing and shortness of breath. If the nerves present in the lungs have been affected by cancer, then additional symptoms like hoarseness of voice due to paralysis of vocal cords and Pancoast’s symptom (shoulder pain which travels down the arm) maybe observed. If the lung airways like the bronchioles and trachea are affected, then diseases like pneumonia or formation of lung abscess may occur due to collapse of a part of the lung.

  • Symptoms due to secretion of hormones by tumour cells (Paraneoplastic symptoms)

The tumour cells often secrete a hormone known as ACTH (Adreenocorticotrophic hormone). The additional production of this hormone by tumour cells of the lung results in the over secretion of another hormone, cortisol from the adrenal gland. Hypersecretion of cortisol in the human body results in the development of Cushing syndrome, which is characterised by high blood pressure, and low sodium levels in blood. Lung tumour cells can also secrete parathyroid hormone, hypersecretion of which results in tetany.

  • Non specific Symptoms

Non-specific symptoms of lung cancer, as in case of other cancers, include fatigue, weakness, sudden excessive weight loss, mood swings and depression.

More the 25% of patients suffering from lung cancer does not show any of the symptoms mentioned above.

Lung cancer in such patients can be diagnosed by routine CT scan or X-RAYS. More often than not, the CT scan reveals a small coin like singular mass of cells, growing from the epithelial tissue of the lungs.


The following symptoms can be considered as the warning signals of lung cancer. If an individual shows more than two symptoms given below, he must immediately consult a doctor and undergo a CT scan of the lungs.

•    Breathing difficulties, shortness of breath and wheezing sounds for long period of time

•    Excessive and sudden weight loss

•    Recurring pain in the chest

•    Respiratory infections like Bronchitis, asthma, pneumonia

•    Blood in sputum

•    Excessive coughing

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