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Community Views: The First Signs of Lung Cancer

Lung cancer can be tricky to diagnose. Few symptoms indicate a problem. As a result, lung cancer often goes undiagnosed until later stages.

To learn more about your path to diagnosis, we turned to the LungCancer.net Facebook page. We asked community members to tell us, “What initial symptom(s) of lung cancer were experienced?”

You shared the symptoms and circumstances leading to your diagnosis. Here is a look at what some of you shared.

Wheezing and coughing

Coughing is the body’s natural way of removing irritants from the lungs. Most cough symptoms last a few weeks and clear up. A chronic cough is one that lingers for longer than 8 weeks. Lung cancer produces a cough as the tumor irritates the lungs. The irritant remains, and the cough persists. You may also begin coughing up blood.1-3

“I was sitting on the sofa watching TV and thought to myself, ‘What the hell is that squeaking noise?’ I thought one of the appliances was going, and then I realized it was me.”

“I had a slight wheeze during inhale and exhale.”

“Coughing up mucus. I went to several doctors and finally had a chest X-ray.”

“Coughed up a small amount of blood.”

Shortness of breath

Struggling to get enough air into your lungs is another sign of lung cancer. Several of you found it harder to breathe, especially during activity. Certain tasks or exercise routines suddenly became more challenging. Breathing patterns that change without explanation deserve a doctor's visit.2-4

“I was getting slightly breathless during my morning walks.”

“I thought I had asthma. I would walk/run 5 miles each morning, and it was getting harder. I would have to stop to catch my breath.”

“Dramatic increase in shortness of breath. I went to the ER thinking I might have pneumonia. Got a metastatic cancer diagnosis instead.”

Other symptoms

A few other common lung cancer symptoms include chest pain, fatigue, and weight loss. You could identify these symptoms looking back on your health in the months before diagnosis. They did not concern you at first.2,3

“Hurting left shoulder and chest where lung cancer and mass were located.”

“Chest discomfort."

“Weight loss and fatigue.”

“In hindsight, I realize I had been experiencing extreme fatigue for months.

Metastatic pain

Many of you first experience symptoms when lung cancer spreads to other parts of the body. A tumor can grow in the lungs without causing pain. There are fewer nerve endings in the lungs, allowing tumors to go unnoticed. After it metastasizes, the affected area feels pain more clearly. The brain and bones are the most common sites for metastasis.2,3

“Went to a neurologist because of back pain; they found it with CT scans.”

“The worst ever muscle cramps in my legs due to extreme low sodium, which the lung cancer was causing.”

“Shoulder pain; I thought it was my rotary cuff.”

“I woke up one night with the worst headache imaginable. A brain scan showed a brain tumor. I had emergency brain surgery. I didn’t wake up for several days when I was told I had stage 4 lung cancer which had metastasized to my brain.”

No symptoms

Several of you shared not experiencing any symptoms. The discovery of your lung cancer was accidental.

“I had and still have no symptoms. Found by accident when I had a CT scan on my kidneys.”

“None. Discovered with routine calcium heart scan.”

“None. Car wreck found it.”

“None at all. My doctor caught it on a regular check-up. She said, ‘We have not done a chest X-ray for a couple of years; let's just get one for reference.’”

We are grateful for all of your insights. Knowing more about initial symptoms can help others in the diagnostic process. Thank you for sharing your journey with us. Keep the conversation going in the comments and share the initial symptoms you experienced that led to your lung cancer diagnosis.

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