Lung cancer in women differs from lung cancer in men in many ways. Yet, despite obvious differences in our appearance, we tend to lump men and women together when talking about lung cancer. This is unfortunate, since the causes, response to various treatments, survival rate, and even symptoms to watch for differ. What are some facts about lung cancer in women?
Lung cancer symptoms in women in the initial stages tend to be overlooked due to the vagueness. This can jeopardize health, hence it becomes necessary for us to know about the symptoms of lung cancer to get it treated at its earliest. Continue reading to get a detailed information.
Did you know, women are more susceptible to lung cancer than men? Yes, it's a fact. Although the exact factors regarding the higher incidence are not clear, statistics and researches show that women are more likely to get affected due to lung cancer than men. Even non-smoker women may suffer from lung cancer as there are many other reasons behind it. Unfortunately, lung cancer gets diagnosed only in its advanced stage. This is because the initial signs are often misunderstood for cough and cold, which are treated with home remedies. Here, we bring you information on the symptoms of lung cancer which will help you to get it diagnosed in the beginning itself.
- Chest Pain: Chest pain in this type of lung disease varies from dull to moderate but nevertheless is persistent. Keep in mind that this symptom is not experienced by all lung cancer affected women. In simple words, chest pain is not a diagnostic symptom as only 25% of patients complain about chest pain. In some cases, chest pain is accompanied by shoulder and arm discomfort.
- Fatigue: One of the most bothersome side effects of all types of cancer including lung cancer is fatigue. Cancer-related fatigue is different from the one that we experience after a tiring day at work. The usual fatigue that we feel goes away after a good night's sleep. However, fatigue from cancer keeps harassing the person, despite taking adequate rest. Moreover, it comes all of a sudden and is not due any kind of strenuous activity.
- Cough: In the initial stages of lung cancer, coughing is not persistent. Episodes of coughing may come and go. However, the time duration of absence of cough is not long as women who have developed lung cancer are predisposed to repeated bouts of coughing.
- Hemoptysis is a medical condition that is typically marked by coughing up blood. Quite a few patients diagnosed with lung cancer tend to cough up blood. If the cancerous tumor in the lungs is bleeding then the blood combines with the mucus. Hence, patients cough up mucus that contain streaks of blood.
- Voice Pattern Changes: Decline in normal voice pattern is also regarded as one of the early signs of lung cancer. Women suffering from lung cancer may talk with a hoarse voice. The hoarseness is the result of cancerous tumor damaging the nerve that controls voice box function. The voice box is located in the lower part of the neck, just below the trachea (the main airway). The vocal cords are two small flexible bands of muscle found in the vocal box, which resonate and produce sound. A nerve traveling from the chest area and terminating at the vocal cord is responsible for proper functioning of the vocal box. However, as the size of the lung tumor grows, it may invade the surrounding tissues of the chest area as well as put undue pressure on the nerve controlling the vocal cord. This may lead to hoarseness in voice.
- Respiratory Infections Come and Go: Cancerous growth in the lungs makes this respiratory organ susceptible to infections. The lungs are unable to defend themselves from a viral or bacterial attack that causes pneumonia or bronchitis. Lung cancer may trigger a repeated cycle of pneumonia or bronchitis. Women affected with lung cancer may frequently suffer from these respiratory infections.
- The desire to eat food may also diminish considerably in women affected with this type of respiratory disorder. This usually happens because the cancerous growth reaches the throat area, making it painful to swallow food. However, doctors opine that continual breathing problems and chest pain are usually the initial symptoms of cancerous growth in the lungs. Frequent headaches and muscle aches are some of the other issues associated with lung cancer patients. So, when these symptoms persist, one needs to immediately consult a doctor. Early diagnosis, which is done using a chest X-ray, can ensure complete recovery from lung cancer.
Signs & Symptoms of Lung Cancer in Women
Undiagnosed Lung Cancer How to Recognize Early Symptoms of Lung Cancer.
Symptoms of lung cancer vary depending on the size of the tumor, where the cancer is located and where it has spread. Very early in the disease, you may not have any symptoms, and it may take years before symptoms appear.
Early Signs and Symptoms
Some early lung cancer symptoms resemble other common illnesses. Examples of these symptoms are fatigue, loss of appetite and weight loss. Early signs and symptoms include a persistent cough, pain in the back and shoulders, difficulty breathing and hoarseness of the voice. You may have chronic bronchitis or pneumonia, or you may cough up blood. You may notice changes in the color of sputum.
Advanced Signs and Symptoms
Advanced signs and symptoms occur when the cancer spreads to other parts of your body. Lung cancer can metastasize to the bones, liver or brain. At this stage, you may develop headaches, vertigo or seizures. The liver may become enlarged, resulting in jaundice. Bones may become brittle and frequently break. As the disease continues to spread, more of the body's energy is used, and you may become extremely tired and weak. You may develop a fever or have problems with cognitive functions and memory.
Smoking and Lung Cancer
Smoking remains the No. 1 risk factor for developing lung cancer. Your risk of developing lung cancer increases with the amount you smoke and the number of years you have smoked. According to the Mayo Clinic, current or former women smokers have a greater risk of developing lung cancer than men who smoke the same amount. It is unclear why this is true. Changes in a smoker's cough are a possible sign of lung cancer and should be reported to your doctor.
According to the American Cancer Society, more people die of lung cancer than breast, colon and lymph cancer combined. The chances of a woman developing lung cancer in her lifetime are about one in 16. If you are concerned that you may have some of the signs and symptoms of lung cancer, see your doctor.
Symptoms of lung cancer are usually ignored in their primary stages, since they can be misleading and resemble common throat infection. By the time it gets diagnosed, it might have reached its advanced stage which is when chances of survival lessen. It is important to know that the very initial stage has no prominent symptoms and hence nearly 25% of the people are diagnosed with lung cancer when they go for a routine X-ray test. Now, you can understand how essential it is to go for an overall check up at least once in a year. Any changes in the body should be reported to a health care provider, for correct diagnosis and timely medical intervention. Given here are some indications that may point towards the presence of lung cancer in the body.
Coughing is one of the earliest signs of lung cancer in women. This can be persistent in nature and occur during any time of the day or night. The cough may worsen as the cancer advances. It can be dry or with phlegm. Sometimes, phlegm may be tinged pink, due to the presence of blood in the sputum. In the later stages coughing can become chronic and it is vital to seek medical assistance as soon as possible.
Difficulty in Breathing
Breathing problem is also another common sign of lung cancer. Shortness of breath is experienced due to blockage in the airways or build up of fluid in lungs. It can also be an indicant of a tumor in the lungs. Wheezing can also be observed due to blocked airways. Because of this breathing is accompanied by a whistling sound.
A woman, in early stages of lung cancer becomes susceptible to respiratory infections like pneumonia or bronchitis. As immunity of the lungs gets hampered because of cancerous cells, the organ loses its capability to fight against viral and bacterial infections.
Due to the spread of cancerous cells, lungs get inflamed. An enlarged tumor in the lungs can trigger pain, discomfort and a feeling of heaviness in the chest. Excessive coughing and difficulty in breathing can also lead to chest pain. It may also result in chronic pain if not taken care of in time. Consult a doctor immediately, in case of chest pain. This can sometimes radiate to the shoulder and arm. Although this is not experienced in all patients it can be considered as a symptom of lung cancer.
Weight Loss and Weakness
A person suffering from lung cancer may experience loss of appetite, which can lead to abnormal and excessive weight loss. The patient may also feel weak and fatigued. Weakness can also trigger severe pain in the bones and muscles.
Changes in Voice
The patient may notice a change in her voice. The voice may become hoarse due to the cancerous cells damaging the nerves of the voice box. As the cancerous lung tumor grows, it puts pressure on the airways and vocal cords, thereby affecting the voice and making it hoarse.
Other symptoms may comprise hormonal imbalance, neurological instability, memory loss, loss of vision, problem in swallowing food, neck and facial swelling, etc. Mood changes and depression are also observed in women suffering from lung cancer.
In case you observe any of these lung cancer symptoms, seek immediate medical attention. The treatment will depend upon the stage and type of the cancer but with early diagnosis and proper therapy, it is not impossible to treat lung cancer. Take care!
Statistics About Lung Cancer in Women.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in women, killing more women each year than breast cancer, uterine cancer, and ovarian cancer combined. While smoking is the number one cause, 20% of these women have never touched a cigarette.
Once considered a “man’s disease,” lung cancer is no longer discriminatory. In 2005, the last year for which we have statistics, 82,271 women (vs 107,416 men) were diagnosed with lung cancer, and 69,078 (vs 90,139 men) died.
While lung cancer diagnoses decreased each year from 1991-2005 for men, the incidence increased 0.5% each year for women. The reason for this is not completely clear.
Lung cancer in women occurs at a slightly younger age, and almost half of lung cancers in people under 50 occur in women.
More Tests for Lung Cancer Diagnosis
- A bone scan can determine whether the cancer has spread to the bones.
- Needle biopsy: If a tumor is on the periphery of the lung, it usually cannot be seen with bronchoscopy. Instead, a biopsy is taken through a needle inserted through the chest wall and into the tumor.
- Typically, a chest X-ray or CT scanning is used to guide the needle.
- This procedure is safe and effective in obtaining sufficient tissue for diagnosis. After the chest surface is cleaned and prepared, the skin and the chest wall are numbed.
- The most serious risk with this procedure is that the needle puncture may cause an air leak from the lung (pneumothorax). This air leak occurs in as many as 3% to 5% of cases. Although this condition can be dangerous, it is almost always recognized quickly and treated without serious consequences.
- Thoracentesis: This a procedure that removes a sample of fluid from the pleural cavity surrounding the lungs. Lung cancers, both primary and metastatic, can cause fluid to collect in the sac surrounding the lung. This fluid is called a pleural effusion.
- The fluid usually contains cells from the cancer.
- Sampling this fluid can confirm the presence of cancer in the lungs.
- The fluid sample is removed by a needle in a procedure similar to needle biopsy.
- Thoracentesis can be important for both staging and diagnosis of the condition.
- Thoracotomy: Sometimes a lung cancer tumor cannot be reached by bronchoscopy or needle procedures.
- In these cases, the only way to obtain a biopsy is by performing an operation.
- The chest is opened (thoracotomy), and as much of the tumor as possible is removed surgically. The removed tumor is then examined microscopically.
- Unfortunately, this operation may not be successful in removing all tumor cells if the tumor is large or has spread to the lymph nodes outside of the lungs.
- Thoracotomy is a major operation that is performed in a hospital.
- Mediastinoscopy: This is another endoscopic procedure. It is performed to determine the extent that the cancer has spread into the area of the chest between the lungs (the mediastinum).
- A small incision is made into the lower part of the neck above the breastbone (sternum). A variation is to make the incision in the chest.
- A mediastinoscope that is similar to a bronchoscope is inserted behind the breastbone.
- Samples of the lymph nodes are taken to evaluate for cancer cells.
- Mediastinoscopy is a very important step to determine whether the tumor can be surgically removed or not.
- Other tests: Other tests are performed to stage the tumor and to assess a person's ability to withstand surgery and other treatment.
- Pulmonary function tests assess breathing capacity.
- Blood tests are performed to identify any chemical imbalances, blood disorders, or other problems that might complicate treatment.
- CT scans may be performed on the most common areas of spread to check for metastatic disease. These tests are generally performed only if symptoms occur that suggest metastatic disease. Certain treatment protocols require that these tests be performed.
- Staging: Staging is a method of classifying the tumor for purposes of treatment planning.
- Staging is based on size of the tumor, location of the tumor, and degree of metastasis of the tumor (if any).
- The treatment will be individually tailored to the tumor stage.
- Tumor stage is related to the outlook for cure and survival (prognosis). The higher the tumor stage, the less likely the disease will be cured.
- In contrast to staging, "grading" of lung cancer involves classification of the tumor cells under a microscope. The grade of a cancer is a measure of the abnormality of the cancer cells when compared to normal cells. High-grade tumors have a very abnormal appearance and tend to grow rapidly.
- Even though smoking is the number one cause of lung cancer in women, a higher percentage of women who develop lung cancer are life-long non-smokers. Some of the causes may include exposure to radon in our homes, secondhand smoke, other environmental and occupational exposures, or a genetic predisposition. Recent studies suggest infection with the human papilloma virus may also play a role.