Early Warning Signs Of Lung Cancer

“Prevention is better than cure”- Desiderius Erasmus

A disease can be fatal if it is ignored. Therefore, it is important for doctors and clinicians to diagnose it at an early stage to be able to treat it effectively. In the case of lung cancer, which is an aggressive form of cancer, the disease needs to be identified before the first symptom appears.

In order to identify lung cancer, the first and foremost step is to identify people who are more prone to developing the disease. They are termed as the “vulnerable population”. This population comprises of smokers and users of other forms of tobacco, which is considered to be a key factor of lung cancer. People who have smoked for 3 decades are at a high risk of developing lung cancer in their 50’s, and so, those with a long history of smoking should undergo a high-definition CT scan once a year.

Cancer risk for smokers:

20cigarettes/day for 1 year = 1 pack

>30 pack = high risk of cancer

Some of the warning signs of lung cancer are:

  • Coughing-up blood
  • Any kind of chest pain that persists beyond 20-30 days
  • Breathlessness
  • Unexplained weight-loss
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite
  • Chronic persistent cough for 20-30 days

The major symptoms of lung cancer can be classifiedas:

Thoracic symptoms or chest symptoms: People in the early stage of lung cancer usually show thoracic symptoms. A cough that persists for long duration is a major symptom of the disease. Small cell lung cancer cancausea dry cough, while non-small cell lung cancer presents symptoms such as wet cough with sputum. This sputum may sometimes contain blood. 

For example, in the case of bronchogenic carcinomas, in which the tumor invades the lung and its associated veins, the patient’s sputum may contain blood. Tumors that are centrally located can compressthe nearby blood vessels, resulting in engorged veins in the neck region, breathlessness, and a change in voice. These symptoms are considered unusual. Other symptoms of lung cancer include the build-up of fluid in the chest. Tumors located peripherally can involve the chest wall or the diaphragm. Such tumors can cause a pricking pain in the chest region while breathing.

Small cell lung cancer or SCLC: This is an aggressive form of the disease that accounts for about 13% of all lung cancers. In this condition, the cancer cells grow quickly and spread to other parts of the body.Therefore, diagnosis may only happen at a later stage, as symptoms appear when the body has already undergone major damage.

Non-small cell lung cancer or NSCLC:In this form of the disease, cancer cells form a tumorwithin the lungs.

Non–thoracic symptoms may be diagnosed through:

  • CT screening or cancer screening
  • Computed tomography scanning – a medical imaging technique used in radiology to get detailed images of the body non-invasively for diagnostic purposes.
  • To prevent exposure to radiation while scanning, the CT scan is investigated uses a low-dose of beams in a 1min procedure.