The symptoms of lung cancer in women are sometimes different than in men, largely because both sexes tend to get different types of lung cancer.
Every year more people die from lung cancer than they do from breast, colon, and prostate cancer combined, so knowing the signs and symptoms is potentially life-saving.
“Is lung cancer painful,” is a question many people wonder about; the answer is yes, it can be, once symptoms start to develop.
Normally, pain is felt across the shoulders and chest and even into and along the back.
Coughing and lung cancer commonly occur together, and if cough is productive and consistent enough, it can cause pain in the chest cavity.
Lung cancer is the second most common cancer that men and women get; breast cancer is most prevalent in women and prostate cancer is most prevalent in men. The American Cancer Society estimates the following numbers for lung cancer in the United States for 2016: approximately 224,390 new cases (117,920 in men and 106,470 in women) with approximately 158,080 deaths (85,920 in men and 72,160 in women). Two out of three people who die from lung cancer are over the age of 65, with the average age of diagnosis being 70 (1).
Cancer Signs and Symptoms in Women
The most common type of lung cancer in women is adenocarcinoma, and these carcinomas tend to grow on the outer parts of the lungs (2). These tumors can become quite large and may even spread before they are detected. Catching this type of lung cancer early is critical, and the symptoms to look for include:
- Back and shoulder pain; and
- Shortness of breath when partaking in physical activity.
If cancer progresses further, symptoms will include:
- A persistent cough, intense at times;
- Pain in the chest, shoulder, or back that has nothing to do with pain from intense coughing;
- A change in the color or amount of mucus;
- Shortness of breath;
- The voice becomes hoarse and intensifies over time;
- A harsh sound heard with each breath (medically known as stridor);
- Recurring bouts of bronchitis or pneumonia;
- Coughing up phlegm or mucus that is tinged with blood; and
- Coughing up blood.
Because lung cancer is difficult to detect, it can spread quietly and may only be noticed once it has reached advanced stages. When the original lung cancer spreads, symptoms can be felt in other places in the body.
The most common type of lung cancer in women is adenocarcinoma, and these carcinomas tend to grow on the outer parts of the lungs.
So—where does lung cancer typically spread to? Typical places include other parts of the lungs, lymph nodes, bones, brain, liver, and adrenal glands. This is why it’s so important to inform your doctor of any health changes as they happen—don’t wait for months or even years. A part of prevention is self-awareness and noting what has changed over time.
Symptoms of lung cancer (3) felt in other parts of the body include:
- Loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss;
- Muscle wasting (also known as cachexia);
- Headaches, bone or joint pain;
- Bone fractures not related to accidental injury;
- Neurological symptoms, such as unsteady gait or memory loss;
- Neck or facial swelling;
- General weakness;
- Bleeding; and
- Blood clots.
Symptoms of Lung Infection
A lung infection is quite common during or after a cold or the flu, and is nothing to be overly concerned about when it comes to lung cancer. If you have recurring lung infections, then it’s important to see your doctor so they can determine what’s causing them. Signs of a lung infection include:
- Congestion of the nasal sinuses;
- Lung congestion;
- Runny nose;
- Sore throat;
- Body aches; and
Symptoms of Lung Disease
Diseases of the lung, including asthma, COPD, and lung cancer can happen to anybody, so it’s necessary to pay attention to symptoms and discuss them with your doctor. Having trouble breathing is not only a sign of aging, but it could be a sign of something else. Either way, making assumptions isn’t the right move—seeing your doctor sooner rather than later is. Symptoms of lung disease include wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, coughing up blood, and chronic chest pain. Don’t self-diagnose; see a doctor.
Symptoms of Lung Cancer in Men
Coughing up blood, chronic cough and unexplained shortness of breath are just a few signs of lung cancer in men.
Symptoms of lung cancer in men are a bit different from those in women. Some symptoms aren’t obviously associated with lung cancer, so misdiagnoses can occur. Certain kinds of lung cancer are more common for each sex, and as such these cancers will present different symptoms. Another important reason for these differences is that men who develop lung cancer tend to have a history of smoking (more so than women), so the types of lung cancer they get are often more closely associated with smoking and will have separate symptoms.
If you smoke, you should stop right away or at least work towards cutting back gradually with the intent to quit entirely. Talk to your doctor about strategies to help you quit smoking, such as counseling, medications, and nicotine replacement products, such as a patch or gum.
Signs to Look for in Men that Could Indicate Lung Cancer
Men experience squamous cell carcinoma more than women do. These carcinomas have a tendency to grow near the central airways and can create symptoms early on. Symptoms include:
- Coughing up blood;
- Chronic cough;
- Shortness of breath;
- Hoarseness; and
- Repeated bouts with lung infections, including pneumonia and bronchitis.
Best Ways to Help Prevent Lung Cancer
First things first: if you suspect you have lung cancer, please see a doctor right away.
When it comes to prevention, the first and most obvious suggestion that comes to mind is to quit smoking, or better yet, don’t start smoking in the first place. Unfortunately, some people get lung cancer and have never smoked a day in their life or even been around secondhand smoke, so it can certainly be frustrating, confusing, or feel unfair. Nevertheless, the odds of not getting lung cancer are far better if you don’t smoke.
Leading a healthy lifestyle can also help prevent lung cancer and other cancers, for that matter. This includes eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, limiting refined carbohydrates such as white sugar and white flour, eating lean meats, avoiding bad fats but consuming good fats (found in olive oil, avocados for example), and staying away from processed and fast foods. Why expose yourself to potentially carcinogenic foods if you don’t have to?
Aside from diet, getting regular exercise is also vitally important when it comes to cancer prevention. Even 30 minutes of walking a day can be enough to get your cardiovascular system going and help keep blood pressure down. Everything is connected, and no one wants to experience the symptoms of lung cancer—women or men—so the healthier you can live, the better off your body will be in the long run.