Caring Currents

10 Little-Known Signs of Lung Cancer (Would You Guess a Change in Mood?)

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In early July, Danish researchers published a new study, showing many cases in which cancer patients, particularly those with lung cancer -- discovered they had a tumor after being referred for psychiatric care. The study, published in the June 25th issue of the International Journal of Cancer, got almost no attention. But it was actually an important finding because it gives us a new way to look at one of the hot issues in cancer treatment right now, which is the problem of lung cancer going undiagnosed until it's well advanced and nearly impossible to cure.

The study, which followed 4,320,623 people in Denmark for ten years, showed that when people ages 50 to 64 were referred to a psychiatrist for the first time in their lives, the reason often turned out to be an undetected malignancy.

"Our study illustrates the importance of making a thorough physical examination of patients with first-time psychiatric symptoms," lead author Michael E. Benros, MD, was quoted as saying. According to Benros, the overall cancer incidence was highest in those over 50 years of age admitted with a first-time mood disorder -- one out of 54 patients turned out to have a malignant cancer diagnosed within the first year. Among those 50 to 64, the overall incidence of cancer was increased almost four fold, and the incidence of brain tumors was increased 37 times.

One of the most common -- and saddest stories -- I hear at is from those with non-small cell lung cancer, which is the most common kind and often isn't diagnosed until it's Stage 3 or 4. A common site for this type of lung cancer to metastasize, or spread, is to the brain.

What other early signs should you watch for to try to catch lung cancer as early as possible?

1. Persistent cough or hoarseness

2. Deep chest pain when you cough or laugh

3. Shortness of breath or wheezing

4. Reddened, rust-colored, or bloody phlegm

5. Getting recurrent infections, like pneumonia or bronchitis

6. Thickened, painful fingertips (caused by abnormal bone growth)

7. Weight loss or lack of appetite

8. Abnormal breast growth in men

9. Mood swings, depression, or lethargy in someone who hasn't been depressed before

10. Sudden onset of irritability, aggression, and temper; could be characterized as "everything gets to him."

Many of these symptoms sound vague, or could indicate a number of other conditions or other cancers. But trust your gut; if you or someone you love is feeling or behaving in a way that's out of character, see the doctor about it. In the case of lung cancer, this is particularly important for anyone with a history of smoking.