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Eight surprising lung cancer symptoms

Patsy Westcott / 22 October 2015 ( 08 November 2016 )

Shoulder pain, huskiness and breathlessness can all be unexpected, little-known signs of lung cancer. View our list of symptoms that need checking.

Man with shoulder pain.
Cancers of the top part of the lungs can cause severe shoulder pain. Photo posed by model.

1. A change of mood

Depression is a frequent forerunner of lung cancer. Major depressive illness heralded a diagnosis in 16 per cent of patients, according to one study.

Anxiety, too, be a symptom of lung cancer. It’s not known why, but if you don’t usually suffer the moody blues, see the GP.

10 surprising ways to feel less anxious

2. Tiredness and fatigue

Debilitating tiredness and fatigue affect nine out of ten people before and after a lung cancer diagnosis. So says a 2011 report in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management.

Sufferers also complain of simply not feeling themselves without being able to pin down why.

Why am I tired all the the time?

3. Digital clubbing

Not a new way to visit a nightclub, but sometimes painful thickening and reddening of the ends of the fingers and nails can be a sign of lung cancer.

Sometimes mistaken for arthritis, lung cancer, especially the non small-cell type, is the commonest lung-related cause.

What's wrong with my nails?

Why are my fingers swollen?

4. Huffing and puffing when you go upstairs

Breathlessness – or dyspnoea - is common in later-stage lung cancer. It may be mistaken for lack of fitness, asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

5. A husky voice

If you find yourself sounding permanently like Kathleen Turner, especially if you also have a persistent cough, this could be a sign of something more sinister than a sudden increase in sexiness.

6. Pain in the shoulder

Cancers of the top part of the lungs - pancoast tumours - can damage a nerve that runs from the upper chest to the neck causing severe shoulder pain.

Other clues are a droopy eyelid, small pupil in that eye and loss of sweating on that side of the face.

Chest, back or abdominal pain, misattributed to heart or other medical conditions, may also signify lung cancer.

Other causes of shoulder pain include frozen shoulder. Find out more about frozen shoulder

7. Stairs a struggle?

Muscle weakness making everyday activities harder can be caused by Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome, an autoimmune disease that disrupts transmission of nerve messages to muscles.

Although rare, the underlying cause in slightly more than half of cases is small-cell lung cancer. 

8. Appetite loss

If your normally healthy appetite has deserted you and the pounds are melting away without dieting, see the doctor.

Loss of appetite and unintentional weight loss are highly associated with cancer, including lung cancer.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.