Lung cancer can affect both smokers and nonsmokers. That’s why everyone should learn about the common and not-so-common signs of lung cancer.

In the early stages of lung cancer, there are rarely any symptoms. However, as the cancer tumor or tumors grow, the most common signs of lung cancer start to appear. These include:

  • Cough and/or hoarseness that doesn’t go away and gets worse; cough may be dry, or with phlegm or blood
  • Shortness of breath or wheezing
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or rib that can be dull or sharp; may be constant or occur only when breathing or coughing
  • Frequent lung infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Lung cancer can also cause symptoms in other parts of the body that are different from the obvious signs listed above. You wouldn’t really think of these as signs of a condition such as cancer! 

Here are 7 less well-known signs of lung cancer:

1. Fingernail and/or Toenail Clubbing 

Lung cancer tumors can make chemicals that push more blood and fluid to the tissues of the fingertips. This can cause the tips to become thicker or larger. The nail bed also softens, causing the nails to look more curved, and the skin around the nails becomes shiny. About 80% of people who have clubbing have lung cancer.

2. Arm and Shoulder Pain

If lung cancer spreads from the top of the lung, it can cause tumors (Pancoast tumors) to form in the nerves of the arms and/or shoulders. These tumors cause pain and sometimes weakness or numbness to radiate to the upper and middle back. Tumors can spread to the ribs, spine, and other nerves and blood vessels. Eventually, the pain spreads to the inner arm, elbow, and fingers. Prescription pain medications may be required for pain relief. Of course, arm and shoulder pain can also be related to your spine. Either way, don’t put off seeing a doctor if you’re experiencing arm and/or shoulder pain or numbness.

3. Voice Changes 

A hoarse voice or changes in your voice is another sign of lung cancer. It may become hard to produce sounds or make changes in speech sounds. Advanced lung cancer can cause a complete loss of voice. This can be caused by the cancer affecting the nerves of the voice box (larynx) or by a tumor that expanded into the area between the lungs, putting pressure on the larynx.

4. Swelling and Discoloration of the Upper Body

As lung cancer spreads, it can generate tumors that restrict the large vein (superior vena cava). This vein carries blood away from the head and arms and returns it to the heart. Because the blood is slowed down, it backs up in the veins, resulting in swelling of the face, neck, chest, and arms. The skin may be discolored with a bluish-red tone. 

5. Extreme Thirst and Frequent Urination

The parathyroid gland and kidneys normally regulate calcium levels in the body. When cancer tumors form, they can disrupt the process of regulating calcium, leading to too much calcium in the bloodstream (hypercalcemia). High calcium levels are linked to extreme thirst and frequent trips to the bathroom. 

6. Horner Syndrome

Horner syndrome causes eyelid drooping, a small eye pupil, and a lowered ability to perspire on one side of the face. Pancoast tumors affect nerves to your eyes and part of the face. This symptom is associated with advanced lung cancer after the cancer has spread into nerves in the neck. Horner syndrome can also cause facial paralysis. 

7. A Sudden Desire and Ability to Quit Smoking

This is probably the strangest symptom of lung cancer. Because quitting smoking is so difficult if one can do it with very little effort, before lung cancer is diagnosed, it has become a strong indicator of lung cancer. The theory is that lung cancer tumors secrete a substance that blocks nicotine addiction. 

Lung Cancer Affects Smokers and Non-Smokers: Act Quickly

Keep in mind that most of these symptoms could appear as a sign of lung cancer, even if you don’t smoke, or didn’t smoke earlier in your lifetime. Be sure to schedule an appointment with your doctor if you notice any of the common or uncommon lung cancer symptoms. 

The earlier lung cancer is found, the sooner treatment can begin which means a better chance for recovery. If you have been given a lung cancer diagnosis, schedule an appointment with one of our lung cancer specialists located in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Plymouth, Coon Rapids, Fridley, Woodbury, Burnsville, Chaska, Edina, Maplewood, and Waconia.