What Shortness of Breath and a Persistent Cough May Mean
Lung Cancer Signs: Page 4
Shortness of breath
About 15 percent of lung cancer cases are in nonsmokers, often as a result of exposure to air pollution, secondhand smoke, or toxins such as asbestos and radon. So although shortness of breath is one of the classic symptoms of lung cancer, it tends to go unnoticed among many people until it's quite pronounced, because it's so easy to attribute to other causes.
How it feels: Like you're developing asthma or have gotten out of shape. It may feel as though it's harder to draw a deep breath, especially when exerting yourself, or you may notice a wheezy feeling in your chest.
What causes it: Lung cancer can develop in the lung sacs themselves or in the bronchial tubes leading to the lungs. Tumor growth interferes with the ability of the lungs to fully inhale and exhale air.
What to do: Ask the doctor to perform breathing tests for asthma and COPD to see if there's another potential cause. If not, ask for a chest X-ray.
Persistent cough or hoarseness
People diagnosed with lung cancer often look back and realize they've been plagued by voice changes or a recurrent cough for months or even years, but they blamed it on allergies or illness. Smokers may blame this symptom on "smoker's cough."
How it feels: One tip-off is having to clear your throat frequently; another is increased saliva production. Your voice might sound throaty or hoarse, or people might ask if you have laryngitis. The cough can be dry, like the kind that comes with allergies, or wet, such as with flu or a cold. Phlegm might be tinted orange, brown, or red with blood, or you might even spot blood in your saliva.
What causes it: When there's a blockage in bronchial tubes or lungs from a developing tumor, mucus can build up behind it. A lung tumor can also press upward and outward on the vocal cords and larynx. Tumors often have a rich blood supply, which can leak into the airway, tinting saliva and cough secretions.
What to do: Tell your doctor if you develop a chronic cough or hoarseness that doesn't go away after a few days. And if you cough or spit up blood, report this to your doctor immediately.