Lung cancer: Signs and symptoms to look out for
Lung cancer is one of the most common and serious types of cancer – around 47,000 people are diagnosed with the condition every year in the UK. Lung cancer is the result of cancerous cells multiplying and dividing uncontrollably in one or both lungs. It is imperative to act on the warning signs as soon as they appear to maximise the effectiveness of treatments.
Complicating this effort is the absence of symptoms in the early stages of the cancer.
However, as the condition progresses, you may experience a slew of unsettling symptoms, which include chest infections.
Chest infections are commonly attributed to more innocuous health complaints, such as the common cold, but if your chest infection does not get better, or you experience repeated chest infections, it may signal lung cancer, warns Macmillan.
Other warning signs of lung cancer include:
- A cough or hoarse voice for three weeks or more
- A change in a cough you have had for a long time
- Feeling breathless and wheezy for no reason
- Coughing up blood
- chest pain or shoulder pain that does not get better.
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Other possible lung cancer symptoms are:
- Weight loss for no obvious reason
- Feeling extremely tired (fatigue).
How to respond
“See a GP if you have symptoms of lung cancer, such as breathlessness or a persistent cough,” advises the NHS.
“The GP will ask about your general health and your symptoms. They may examine you and ask you to breathe into a device called a spirometer, which measures how much air you breathe in and out,” explains the health body.
“You may be asked to have a blood test to rule out some of the possible causes of your symptoms, such as a chest infection.”
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Am I at risk?
There are some factors that can increase your risk of developing lung cancer, although having any of these risk factors doesn’t mean that you will definitely get cancer.
Most cases of lung cancer are caused by smoking, although people who have never smoked can also develop the condition.
According to Cancer Research UK, around seven out of 10 lung cancers are caused by smoking. This includes breathing in other people’s cigarette smoke.
“Even light or occasional smoking increases the risk of lung cancer. But your risk increases more the longer you smoke and the more you smoke,” the charity warns.
As it explains, some substances increase the risk of lung cancer. These include asbestos, silica and beryllium.
Research also suggests that being exposed to diesel fumes over many years increases your risk of developing lung cancer.
One study has shown your risk of developing lung cancer increases by around 33 percent if you live in an area with high levels of nitrogen oxide gases (mostly produced by cars and other vehicles).
Other risk factors include:
- Previous lung disease
- Exposure to radon gas
- Family history of lung cancer.
How is lung cancer treated?
According to the NHS, the type of treatment you receive for lung cancer depends on several factors.
- The type of lung cancer you have (non-small-cell or small-cell mutations on the cancer)
- The size and position of the cancer
- How advanced your cancer is (the stage)
- Your overall health.
As the NHS explains, the most common treatment options include surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and immunotherapy.
“Depending on the type of cancer and the stage, you may receive a combination of these treatments,” it adds.
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