Surprising Side Effects Of Lung Cancer
Last updated: April 2023
Each person’s journey with lung cancer is challenging, no matter what side effects they experience. Some side effects, like fatigue, affect nearly everyone undergoing treatment. Others are less common and, in some cases, even unexpected. In any case, side effects can be hard to predict and can have a big impact on quality of life.
In our 4th Annual Lung Cancer In America survey, we explored the many side effects that affect people living with the condition. More than 800 people with lung cancer completed the survey, and nearly every single respondent shared that they have experienced a variety of side effects from their diagnosis and treatment. Following the survey, we also turned to community members on our Facebook page and asked them to weigh in with the most surprising side effect they have experienced.
Here, we explore some of the side effects that caught them off-guard.
Many were surprised by breathing problems
Lung cancer makes it hard for lungs to exchange oxygen, causing many to feel short of breath even when they least expect it. A large number of survey respondents noted that they have experienced respiratory symptoms, including:
- Breathing problems – 45 percent
- Chronic or persistent cough – 32 percent
- Wheezing – 31 percent
- Pneumonia or bronchitis – 22 percent
- Excessive phlegm – 20 percent
“Fatigue and the shortness of breath. I just walk up the stairs and I have to sit down as soon as I get to my room.”
“Difficulty breathing in the heat.”
“Shortness of breath, especially when it is really hot outside.”
Pain in unexpected areas
Pain was a common side effect, with 38 percent of respondents noting this symptom. However, many community members were surprised that they experienced pain in areas like their muscles or bones.
“Pain in my left breast and sharp pains when I cough or sneeze where the drainage tubes were.”
“Muscle pain was not mentioned in side effects...was not prepared for it!!”
“Pain in my bones and left side.”
“Pain on my cancer-free left chest”
The impact of lung cancer on eyes, ears, and teeth
A number of survey respondents shared that their eyes, ears, and teeth had been impacted by their diagnosis. Vision changes were experienced by 26 percent of survey respondents. About 22 percent have experienced a ringing in their ears, and another 12 percent have hearing loss. Community members also mentioned that their teeth started to break or fall out as a result of treatment.
“I never had trouble with watery eyes until I started chemo. Now water just rolls down my face.”
“I had a serious vision issue from steroids used every time I had chemo. CSR, central serous retinopathy, a swelling of the tissue of the retina. Took a long time to resolve.”
“My teeth broke off really badly. [I] now have full dentures.”
“Hearing loss in my left ear – did not expect that.”
Nausea and lack of appetite
Even though many cancer treatments can cause nausea and lack of appetite, these symptoms can come at times and in situations when people least expect it. Interestingly, many community members mentioned that certain smells triggered their nausea. Many respondents also shared that they have experienced these types of symptoms:
- Loss of appetite – 39 percent
- Weight loss – 35 percent
- Nausea and/or vomiting – 34 percent
“Sense of smell sometimes makes me nauseous.”
“Food does not taste good anymore. No appetite, and I have lost 45 pounds.”
“I cannot even walk past the deli in the supermarket; it smells so bad I want to puke.”
Changes to skin and fingernails
Treatment for lung cancer has a far-reaching effect on the body, including on the skin and fingernails. Just over 30 percent of respondents shared that their fingernails became thin or brittle following treatment, while 27 percent noted skin irritation and/or changes. Considering that many treatments weaken the immune system, it is not surprising that 11 percent also experienced slow wound healing.
“Itching, under control with Benadryl.”
Other surprising side effects
While some side effects were not reported by as many survey respondents, these issues show that lung cancer can have a far-reaching impact on the body. Respondents mentioned issues like neuropathy (32 percent), swelling (16 percent), and bleeding and/or clotting issues (8 percent).
“Swollen legs and feet that have to be raised and iced in hot, humid weather or when I sit or drive for a couple of hours.”
“Neuropathy and cramping in feet is my only remaining side effect, but it sure is annoying!”
“Blood clots! I had no idea cancer causes blood to ‘thicken.’”
The 4th Annual Lung Cancer In America survey was held online from January through June 2020. 804 people completed the survey.
Beside manner matters! What has your experience been?