Symptoms and Signs of Small cell lung cancer

Individuals suffering from small cell lung cancer have experienced several signs and symptoms. The occurrence of any symptom is mainly referred to by the individual capable of identifying and describing the conditions of changes in the health, such as fatigue, nausea, or pain. 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 have been considered the primary health concern, leading to several medical issues. Individuals suffering from small cell lung cancer are not diagnosed with specific signs and symptoms. Still, some of the common symptoms are observed among small cell lung cancer patients that deteriorate over weeks or days. Following symptoms are observed among the patients suffering from small cell lung cancer:

  • Fatigue
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Coughing out the mucus or phlegm
  • Coughing up blood (hemoptysis)
  • Neck and face swelling
  • Onset of wheezing
  • Recurrent episodes of lung infections involving pneumonia or bronchitis.

Small cell lung cancer shows variations in the signs and symptoms of the individuals. The specific results depend on various factors involving the exact location and size of the tumor, the invasion extent of the tumor with the nearby tissues or organs, and determining the localization of the disease and metastasis ​1​. There would be no symptoms in the initial phase of the illness, referred to as asymptomatic, while showing only a few mild symptoms. As the tumor grows, more signs and symptoms develop.

As the small cell lung cancer metastasized within the regions of lymph nodes, brain, liver, adrenal glands, bone, and bone marrow, the symptoms vary according to the metastasis areas and the disease’s extent. It leads to the occurrence of other symptoms that majorly involves bone pain from metastasis to bones, yellowing of eyes, jaundice in the skin and mucous membranes from metastasis to liver, headache, dizziness, double vision, the sensation of numbness or prickling in the hands, arms, feet, legs during metastasis to the brain, or small lumps or growths on the skin when cancer has spread to the skin or lymph nodes. 

Individuals suffering from small cell lung cancer tend to show paraneoplastic syndromes ​2​. These syndromes are rare disorders causing abnormal production of hormones or abnormal response of the immune system to form tumor cells. The white blood cells that commonly aim for protecting the body from bacteria, viruses and other foreign invaders tend to attack the healthy cells causing different neurologic issues such as weakness, loss of sensation, imbalance or confusion. One of the most common paraneoplastic syndromes found among small cell lung cancer affected patients is known as the syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone secretion. It is mainly characterized by excessive production of the antidiuretic hormone that causes the individuals to retain water and lowers salt (sodium) levels within the body resulting in fatigue, lethargy, and confusion.


  1. 1.
    van Meerbeeck JP, Fennell DA, De Ruysscher DK. Small-cell lung cancer. The Lancet. Published online November 2011:1741-1755. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(11)60165-7
  2. 2.
    Jackman DM, Johnson BE. Small-cell lung cancer. The Lancet. Published online October 2005:1385-1396. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(05)67569-1