A drop in weight of more than 10 percent of the body in 6 months is significant and may point towards a cancerous process, says& Dr Suman S Karanth.
Lung cancer is one of the most common causes of mortality in males across the world.
Unfortunately, most of the times lung cancers are not diagnosed early as they cause very few symptoms until they have spread.
There are a few symptoms which occur early on which may point towards lung cancer.
Some of the symptoms which one needs to look at are:
1. A cough that doesn't go away
A stubborn and persistent cough lasting more than two weeks should alert you to something suspicious.
This could be a symptom of lung cancer. Visit your doctor at the earliest to get preliminary tests done.
2. Change in quality of cough/Coughing up blood or rust-colored sputum (spit or phlegm)
This is particularly important if you are a smoker with a chronic cough.
If your cough gets deeper or hoarser in quality with more frequent cough, it should be evaluated.
If you are coughing up blood or an unusually large amount of mucus, you should visit your doctor.
3. Shortness of breath
This can be as a result of either block in the airway or fluid that builds up in the lung due to the lung cancer.
This prevents the lung from expanding and person feels breathless on minimal exertion.
If you get breathless while performing simple everyday activities, get it checked at the earliest.
4. Hoarseness of voice
A recent change in voice which remains persistent can occur due to involvement of the nerve supplying the larynx or voice box by the tumour.
If this occurs, especially if a person is a regular smoker, it a clear sign of an underlying lung cancer.
5. Chest pain that is often worse with deep breathing or coughing
This could mean either that the lymph nodes in chest have increased in size or the cancer has spread to the chest wall, ribs or lining of the lung.
6. Unexplained weight loss and loss of appetite
A drop in weight of more than 10 percent of the body in 6 months is significant and may point towards a cancerous process. This is due to the energy being used up by the cancer cells.
A whistling sound may occur when the airways are inflamed, constricted or blocked. Though this can occur due to many reasons, it could also be a sign of lung cancer.
8. Feeling tired or weak
This could especially occur as the tumour spreads to the rest of the body. This is a warning sign for any cancer.
9. Infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia that don’t go away or keep coming back
Repeated infections occur when the airway passage is blocked by the tumour and these passages cannot be cleared easily. This becomes site for infection to grow.
In addition, the lowered immunity in the body due to cancer helps these infections to come back repeatedly.
10. Headache, bony pains and jaundice
These may be signs of advanced lung cancer especially when it spreads to the brain, bone and liver.
When these are present, the survival of patient is limited.
Who are the people at risk to be screened for lung cancer?
If you are between ages 55 and 80 years and have a history of smoking 30-pack year or more and are currently still smoking OR have a history of having smoked within the past 15 years, you are at very high risk of lung cancer and must get a yearly screening done with low dose tomography of the chest.
If you experience any of the above symptoms, please visit a doctor so that you get diagnosed at an earlier stage when treatment is likely to be more effective.
Dr Suman S Karanth is a consultant, medical oncology, Fortis Hospital, Gurugram.