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Complications and Related Conditions

Lung cancer can cause complications that impact general health. There are also several other conditions that may be related to lung cancer.

Fluid Build-Up in the Chest

Pleural effusion is an abnormal build-up of fluid in the chest cavity, specifically in the pleural space, which is located between the layers of membrane that cover the lungs and the chest wall. There are many causes for pleural effusion, including infections, injuries, heart or liver failure, blood clots in the lungs (pulmonary emboli), and drugs. Lung cancer tumors can also cause pleural effusion, which when caused specifically by cancer is known as malignant pleural effusion.1


Metastasis is the spread of cancer from its original location to other parts of the body. This is also called metastatic cancer, or metastatic lung cancer. Cancer can metastasize when cells from the original tumor break off and travel through the bloodstream or the lymphatic system to distant sites in the body. The lymphatic system is made up of vessels and lymph nodes that carry fluid and immune cells, also known as lymphocytes, throughout the body. Lung cancer often first spreads to lymph nodes in the lungs.2,3

Second Cancer

Second cancers are not a metastasis, or spread, of the original cancer. Second cancers are unique, additional cancers that start in a different organ or part of the body. They are also known as secondary cancers or second primary cancers. (Primary cancer is the name given to the first cancer; second cancers are new cancers not related to the first cancer.) The National Cancer Institute estimates that nearly one in five cancers diagnosed today occurs in a person who has had a previous diagnosis of cancer. Second cancers are also different from a recurrence of cancer, which refers to cancer that has come back after treatment.2,4


Depression, also known as major depressive disorder or clinical depression, is a serious mood disorder that affects how a person feels, thinks, and handles daily activities. It is estimated that one in four persons with lung cancer experiences periods of depression or other psychosocial problems during and after treatment. Other studies have shown rates of 43-47% of patients with lung cancer experiencing depression.5-7


Anxiety, which can show up as generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder, is also a mood disorder that can affect daily activities. Although the prognostic outlook (projected outcome) for lung cancer patients has improved as treatment evolves, lung cancer is still the leading cause of cancer deaths. This fact is a likely contributor to the increased incidence of depression and anxiety among lung cancer patients.5-7

Written by: Emily Downward | Last reviewed: January 2017.
  1. Merck Manual. Accessed online on 8/15/16 at
  2. American Cancer Society. Accessed online on 8/15/16 at
  3. NCCN Guidelines for Patients – Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer, Version 1.2015. National Comprehensive Cancer Network.
  4. National Cancer Institute. Accessed online on 8/15/16 at
  5. Brown CG, Brodsky J, Cataldo JK. Lung cancer stigma, anxiety, depression and quality of life. J Psychosoc Oncol. 2014:32(1):59-73. doi: 10.1080/07347332.2013.855963.
  6. National Institute of Mental Health. Accessed online on 8/16/17 at
  7. Montazeri A, Milroy R, Hole D, McEwen J, Gillis CR. Anxiety and depression in patients with lung cancer before and after diagnosis: findings from a population in Glasgow, Scotland. J Epidemiol Community Health. 1998:52:203-204.