When my father was rushed to the best cardiac hospital in Las Vegas, NV following an episode of chest pains and shortness of breath while he was at work, we all just sort of knew that it wasn’t a heart attack. Just like we knew that it wasn’t the Tuberculosis or chest infection that they originally thought it might be after ruling out a heart attack. And when he was sent home with medications to treat the Staph infection that the doctors all agreed was causing his symptoms, we watched him closely.
Six months went by and his cough only worsened. He lost weight. He had no energy. And he just looked ‘sick’. When he went back this time, the doctors had an answer – cancer.
The amount of misdiagnosed cases of lung cancer in the United States is staggering. Sometimes the misdiagnoses don’t affect the outcome. My dad’s lung cancer was terminal even before he was rushed to the hospital with the possible symptoms of a heart attack. Had he been diagnosed with the cancer he had, any treatment they could’ve given him would’ve only prolonged his life by a few more months.But in other cases, had a patient been diagnosed correctly and gotten the proper treatment the first time, a life could’ve been saved, or at least prolonged enough to make a positive difference in that person’s life, and the lives of their friends and family.
But to look at it another way, had my father gone to a doctor about his worsening cough instead of just passing it off as his “Smoker’s Cough” getting worse as he got older, that doctor may have found the cancer before it became terminal and took his life. Looking back, there were many symptoms that even those around him noticed that pointed to cancer long before the seriousness of his illness hit our family full force. Hindsight is always perfect. But at the time those symptoms seemed benign and were easy to brush off as something that wasn’t so serious a thought as the idea of cancer.
According to the Mayo Clinic, lung cancer does not usually show many symptoms in the early stages. Because of this, you’ll want to go for regular check-ups. Sticking with the same doctor can help someone to get to know you, as well as your body, so that they notice small changes in your health and can check for problems such as cancer should it be warranted. This is especially true if you are at risk for lung cancer because you smoke, have been around smokers, there is a family history of lung cancer or you have been exposed to radon gas, asbestos or other carcinogens during your lifetime (especially prolonged exposure).
When the signs and symptoms of lung cancer do start to show themselves, they can be varied in type and also in intensity. How you feel may lead you to think you are coming down with a cold, or it could send you to the Emergency Room. Often times the milder symptoms are overlooked or passed off as something else until there’s no overlooking the fact that you’re sick, and the idea that it might be cancer.
Cancer in general usually leads to some basic symptoms once it has spread to a certain point or is attacking the body. Unexplained weight loss should be monitored and should be looked at by a doctor if not controlled. Many signs resemble the common flu with fever and fatigue. Depending on where the cancer is, it can lead to pain in those areas – the pain can be mild or severe. The skin can also be an indicator of cancer if it becomes darker, yellow, reddened, itchy, or if you experience more hair growth than normal.
Most of those symptoms are not something that you would rush in to see a doctor about until they became excessive or started to interfere with your daily life.
Lung cancer itself can have some very distinctive signs, though. When most people think about lung cancer they think of the coughing that is usually associated with it. Coughing up blood, even just a tinge of red, can be an indicator of many respiratory illnesses and should be looked at, even if just to rule out cancer. Related to that, a steady or chronic cough is common among early lung cancer patients. If you’ve smoked for awhile, you may have what is known as “Smoker’s Cough” and if this worsens over a short period of time you’ll want to get yourself checked out. Even if your symptoms are not pointing to lung cancer, they may be pointing to another respiratory illness such as emphysema or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) that will need treatment to keep from worsening.
Once the cancer has progressed, more definite signs of lung cancer are wheezing, hoarseness when talking, and shortness of breath. This is caused by the body being unable to get enough oxygen through the increasingly damaged lungs. Chest pain may lead many to think they are having a heart attack, especially when experienced with the shortness of breath, as in my father’s case.
What this comes down to is this… If you’re feeling any of these symptoms, it may be because of a respiratory illness, an infection, or even a chest cold. But if you are at risk for lung cancer, and you don’t feel right, you’re coughing, losing some weight, or especially if you are feeling chest pain, then get to a doctor and get yourself looked at. If caught early, lung cancer can be treated in most cases, but you’ll need to undergo a battery of tests that can include X-rays, CT scans, or even a biopsy to determine what the best treatment plan for you would be. Your doctor will give you options, and it is up to you to weigh the outcomes.
Knowing your body, taking care of it with a healthy diet and exercise, and being conscious of your risks for lung cancer can go a long way to keeping yourself healthy, happy, and productive for a long time to come.
Signs & Symptoms of Cancer
American Cancer Society
Lung Cancer Symptoms