Signs and Symptoms of Lung Cancer
Most lung cancers don’t cause any symptoms until they have spread, but some people with early lung cancer do have symptoms. If you go to the doctor as soon as you notice signs of cancer, it may be found at an earlier stage, when it is more likely that treatment will work.
Non-small-cell lung cancer, or NSCLC, makes up about 80% to 85% of lung cancers. Adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and large cell carcinoma are the main types of NSCLC. These subtypes, which start in different types of lung cells, are grouped as non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) because their treatment and outlook are often the same.
Small cell lung cancer, or SCLC, which is sometimes called “oat cell cancer,” makes up about 10% to 15% of all lung cancers. This kind of lung cancer grows and spreads more quickly than NSCLC. When they are diagnosed, about 70% of people with SCLC already have cancer that has spread. Since this cancer grows quickly, chemotherapy and radiation tend to work well on it. Most people with cancer will have it come back at some point.
Most of these symptoms are less likely to be caused by lung cancer. Still, if you have any of these problems, you should see your doctor as soon as possible so that the cause can be found and, if necessary, treated.
The most common symptoms of lung cancer are:
- A cough that does not go away or gets worse
- Coughing up blood or rust-colored sputum (spit or phlegm)
- Chest pain that is often worse with deep breathing, coughing, or laughing
- Loss of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling tired or weak
- Infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia that don’t go away or keep coming back
- New onset of wheezing
Metastatic lung cancer is when the cancer spreads to other parts of the body, which may cause:
- Bone pain, like pain in the back or hips
- Nervous system changes such as headache, weakness or numbness of an arm or leg, dizziness, balance problems, or seizures, from cancer that has spread to the brain
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes, also called jaundice, from cancer that has spread to the liver
- Swelling of lymph nodes such as those in the neck or above the collarbone
Can Lung Cancer be Detected Early?
Screening is when people who don’t have any symptoms are given tests or exams to look for diseases. Regular chest x-rays have been studied as a screening test for people who are more likely to get lung cancer, but they haven’t been shown to help most people live longer, so they aren’t recommended for lung cancer screening. Another option for those with a high risk of lung cancer includes a low-dose CT scan or LDCT. These scans can help find abnormal areas in the lungs that may be cancer. Yearly LDCT scans can help save lives.
Still, it’s important to know that not everyone who gets screened will benefit, just like with any other type of test. Screening with LDCT won’t find all lung cancers, and not all of the cancers that are found won’t be found early. Some people with lung cancer who are found by screening can still die from that cancer.
What is the Five Year Relative Survival Rate of Lung Cancer?
With a relative survival rate, people with the same type and stage of cancer are compared to the rest of the population. For example, if the 5-year relative survival rate for a certain stage of lung cancer is 60%, it means that, on average, people with that cancer are about 60% as likely to live at least 5 years after being diagnosed as people who don’t have that cancer.
5-Year Relative Survival Rates for Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer
Based on people diagnosed with NSCLC between 2011 and 2017, the survival rates are as follows:
- For those who have cancer that has not spread outside the lung – 64%
- For those who have cancer that has spread locally to nearby structures or lymph nodes – 37%
- For those who have cancer that has spread to distant parts of the body, such as the brain, bones, liver, or the other lung – 8%
5 Year Relative Survival Rates For Small Cell Lung Cancer
Based on people diagnosed with SCLC between 2011 and 2017, the survival rates are as follows:
- For those who have cancer that has not spread outside the lung – 29%
- For those who have cancer that has spread locally to nearby structures or lymph nodes – 18%
- For those who have cancer that has spread to distant parts of the body, such as the brain, bones, liver, or the other lung – 3%
These numbers for both NSCLC and SCLC apply only to the stage of cancer when it is first diagnosed. They do not apply later on if the cancer grows, spreads, or comes back after treatment.
Living with Lung Cancer
Some people with lung cancer may be able to get rid of or kill the cancer with treatment. Completing treatment can be both stressful and exciting. You might be glad to be done with treatment, but it’s hard not to worry that the cancer will get worse or come back. This happens a lot to people who have had cancer.
However, for some, lung cancer might never completely go away. Several people with cancer may get regular chemo, radiation therapy, or other treatments to try to keep the cancer under control for as long as possible. It can be hard and very stressful to learn how to live with cancer that doesn’t go away.
Below are some things one can do to help improve their overall health and their chances of survival with lung cancer:
- Quitting smoking
- A healthy diet and routine physical activity
- Dietary supplements
- Emotional support through your diagnosis, treatment, and recovery stages