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16th March 2021

5 lung cancer symptoms you might not recognise

View all Early detection

The past 12 months of living in a pandemic have certainly made us all more aware of our health, and rightly so. Many people are now aware that a cough could be covid, but it could also be lung cancer. As well as a cough, there are a few other vital lung cancer symptoms that you may not be aware of.

Here at Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, we see it as our duty to raise awareness of the symptoms of lung cancer. The obvious symptoms and the not-so obvious.

Lung cancer won’t wait for the pandemic to be over, so, as well as a persistent cough, it is critical that as many people as possible are aware of other less commonly known symptoms of the disease.

Here are five symptoms of lung cancer that you might not be aware of:

Hoarseness

A hoarse voice is something to be expected after speaking or singing for a long time. But if you are experiencing unexplained and prolonged hoarseness or weakening of your voice – it may be a sign of lung cancer.

Hoarseness is not a commonly recognised symptom of lung cancer, with just 1% of people in the UK identifying it in a lung cancer symptom awareness survey, conducted by the GLCC. It was Andrew Libby’s only symptom.

andrews lung cancer symptoms
Andrew’s only symptom was a hoarse voice

“I saw a throat specialist who saw one of my two vocal cords was paralysed. I was told this normally means something more sinister because something is pressing on the nerve.

“That early diagnosis was massive because I could have easily not been diagnosed when I was, and the tumour would have continued to grow. It is paramount that if you do have any symptoms, go and get yourself checked – however scared you feel. Leaving it is only going to make things worse.”

Since his curative lobectomy surgery, Andrew has been able to return to playing his saxophone in his German Oompah Band.

Swollen face

You might think ‘what does a swollen face have to do with your lungs?’. Well, quite a lot, actually.

A swollen face can be caused by an obstruction to the superior vena cava. If lung cancer is near this major vein in the chest, it can press on the vein or surrounding area, causing a blockage which stops or slows down the flow of blood. These blockages then cause swelling in the face or neck.

Weight loss.

Losing weight is something many people are happy about. Some may will explain it away as a result of changes in their diet or routine. However, it is important to be aware that unexplained weight loss can be a sign of lung cancer.

For Sue Reeves, weight loss was one of her lung cancer symptoms, ‘I just put it down to having an energetic job’, she said.

Sue acted on her symptoms and luckily, her lung cancer was caught at an early stage. She then had an upper lobe removal followed by chemotherapy and continues to have the all clear on her check-up scans.

Finger clubbing

Lung cancer is a common cause of finger clubbing; however, it can occur in other heart and lung diseases.

You might be surprised to find out that finger clubbing is seen in 35% of non-small cell lung cancer cases, and in 4% of small cell lung cancer cases.

Finger clubbing is a way to describe the ends of your fingers swelling up, caused by excess fluid collecting in the tissue of the fingers.

An easy way to check if your fingers are clubbed is to hold your fingernails together, if you don’t see a small diamond-shaped window of light as shown below, it may be an indicator of lung cancer or other respiratory problems.

lung cancer symptoms - finger clubbing
Finger clubbing test

Repeat chest infections.

Repeat chest infections can be exhausting to deal with, they can also be an indicator that there is something more serious going on.

Ruthra Coventry was getting repeat chest infections for two to three years. She put it down to her child bringing bugs home from nursery. But when the infection wasn’t clearing up, Ruthra knew it needed to be investigated.

“After I had my first CT scan, I was told that there was a mass in my chest. I ended up going for surgery because of the location of the mass, as that it kept causing problems.

It was then confirmed as lung cancer after my surgery. I was shocked but I still don’t think it really hit me until later. Now, when I pause for a minute and think about it, I realise just how lucky I am.”

Since Ruthra’s surgery, she has taken part in several fundraising activities for Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, including some of our virtual runs and she chopped off 15 inches of her hair. You can read more about her fundraising here.

Know all the symptoms.

If you have lungs, you can get lung cancer. The sooner any possible lung cancer symptoms are checked out, the sooner you can get to the bottom of the cause. It may not be lung cancer, but if it is, an early diagnosis can make a huge difference.