Symptoms and Signs of Non-small Cell Lung Cancer

The body goes through several changes evolving the issues in specific signals that may require particular medical care. Individuals suffering from non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) have experienced several signs and symptoms. The symptom of a specific individual, only the one capable of describing and identifying the conditions of changes in the health, such as fatigue, nausea, or pain ​1​. A sign is a condition that can be even identified and measured by other individuals involving diseases such as fever, rash, or an elevated pulse. Hence, altogether, signs and symptoms are the primary health concern, leading to several medical issues. However, the suspected individuals with NSCLC mainly do not show specific signs or symptoms. And so, in most cases, the primary cause of signs and symptoms results in normal medical conditions and not cancer. 

Signs and Symptoms

The symptoms of lung cancer among individuals varies individually. Some of the individuals do not show any signs and symptoms. Furthermore the symptoms of lung cancer might be confusing as it shows similarities with the common respiratory illnesses of bronchitis or pneumonia, which may delay the appropriate diagnosis process ​1,2​. None of the symptoms occurs until they have spread in most lung cancer cases, but some individuals with early lung cancer do not show any signs. The symptoms might be something other than lung cancer.

Common Symptoms

The most common symptoms of lung cancer are illustrated below: 

  • Prolonged cough that even gets worsen with time.
  • Presence of blood or rust-colored sputum (spit or phlegm) in cough
  • Chest pain gets worse with deep breathing, coughing or laughing.
  • Pain in arm and shoulder
  • Loss of appetite
  • Roughness
  • Weight loss
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling tired quickly
  • Weakness
  • Occurrence of infection involving bronchitis and pneumonia that stays for a long duration
  • New onset of wheezing
  • Neck and face swelling due to compressing of the tumor cells as large veins while moving the superior vena cava from blood to heart emerging from head and arms
  • Occurrence of clubbing that involves the widening of the fingertips and nail bed, mainly found in case of non-small cell lung cancer cases

Further Symptoms

In the case of lung cancer, when it spreads to the bone region, it may involve the symptoms like:

  • Pain in bones (mainly in bones of back and hip region)
  • Changes within the nervous system involve symptoms of headache, weakness or numbness of an arm or leg, dizziness, balance problems, or seizures as cancer spreads to the brain.
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes leads to the emergence of jaundice as cancer spreads towards the liver region.
  • Swelling of the lymph nodes in the form of immune system cells collection, mainly in the regions of the neck and above the collarbone
  • Weakening of the bones of arms and legs and mainly causing numbness

These symptoms not always meant to predict lung cancer ​3​. But, it is still important to discuss the symptoms of lung cancer with the doctor as they may also tend to show other major health issues. If such symptoms occur then immediately visit the doctor. The doctor should be quite communicative with the individuals by asking them about their prolonged symptoms duration and their experiences while asking some other questions. It eventually helps analyze and determine the cause of the issue and follow the appropriate diagnosis process.


The individuals suffering from non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) also show no symptoms in some of the cases. Still, the occurrence of the tumor cells are detected by using imaging tests involving the chest x-ray, or CT scan is performed for some of the other reasons for checking the related heart diseases ​4​. Individuals suffering from NSCLC are often diagnosed after the increased growth of the tumor cells that occupy the region and spread in different parts while causing several health issues within the body parts near the lungs.

Pleural Effusion and Symptoms

The lung tumors have been observed with the production of some fluid formed within the lungs or the regions around the lungs while pushing out the air from the lungs and collapsing. This fluid formation within the body prevents the oxygen from entering the body and carbon dioxide from leaving outside the body as the flow of air into the lungs gets blocked or by utilizing the space usually required for oxygen to come in and carbon dioxide to go out the lung. This fluid is generally known as pleural effusion as the fluid is formed within the pleural space between the length of the lungs and chest wall. If the tumor cells show growth in this pleural space, it often leads to malignant pleural effusion, resulting in the spread of cancer to other body regions. Some of the significant symptoms of pleural effusion are:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Dry cough
  • Pain
  • Tightness and heaviness in the chest
  • The incapability of lying flat
  • The inability of following any exercise
  • Not feeling well most of the times

Symptoms of Metastasis

While the NSCLC has the capability of spreading anywhere within the body through metastasis. And so, it majorly spreads to the lymph nodes, other parts of the lungs, bones, brain, liver, and structures near the kidneys called the adrenal glands. The emergence of metastasis evolved from NSCLC tends to show specific symptoms such as:

  • Increased breathing difficulties
  • Pain in the bone region
  • Pain in back region and abdomen
  • Severe headache
  • Weakness
  • Seizures
  • Difficulties in speaking
  • Lowering of the blood sodium level and increase in the blood calcium levels being evolved from the hormones released from lung cancer cells

The diagnosis of cancer involves the symptoms considered significant for moving ahead for cancer care and treatment ​5–8​. It further leads towards the adoption of palliative care and supportive care. It is mainly initiated after diagnosis and is followed constantly after the treatment. Appropriate communication must be maintained with the healthcare team regarding the experience of the symptoms while involving the new symptoms or changes in the symptoms.


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