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What are the early signs of lung cancer in men?

The causes of lung cancer can differ between males and females, as can life expectancies. Also, some types of lung cancer are more common in males. However, symptoms tend to be universal.

According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer is the second most common cancer and the leading cause of cancer deaths among both males and females in the country. The organization also estimates that in 2018 in the United States there will be:

  • 234,030 new cases of lung cancer, including 121,680 in men and 112,350 in women
  • 154,050 deaths from lung cancer, including 83,550 men and 70,500 women

People who smoke have a much higher risk of developing lung cancer than nonsmokers. In the U.S., cigarette smoking is more common in men than in women.

In this article, we look at the early signs and symptoms of lung cancer in males. We also describe when to see a doctor, how the doctor makes a diagnosis, and tips for coping with symptoms.

Early signs and symptoms

Man reading letter and worrying about signs of lung cancer in men
Early diagnosis of lung cancer can improve a person’s outlook.

In the early stages, lung cancers often do not cause symptoms in anyone. The symptoms tend to develop as the cancer spreads and progresses.

However, early diagnosis and treatment can significantly improve a person’s outlook.

Non-small cell lung cancer, or NSCLC, is the most common type of lung cancer.

Symptoms tend to be similar in males and females and can include:

  • a cough that lasts longer than a few weeks
  • coughing up blood
  • wheezing
  • chest pain
  • pain when breathing or coughing
  • shortness of breath
  • hoarseness
  • frequent lung infections, such as pneumonia or bronchitis, due to the cancerous cells obstructing the airways
  • atelectasis, which is the collapse of the lungs after cancer has blocked the airways

If squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer, develops in the lungs, a person may also experience paraneoplastic syndrome.

Paraneoplastic syndrome occurs when cancerous cells or cells from the immune system produce hormones or other substances that change surrounding tissue. It can cause symptoms, such as:

  • difficulty walking and maintaining balance
  • muscle cramps
  • involuntary movements
  • loss of muscle coordination
  • muscle weakness
  • trouble swallowing
  • slurred speech

Another type of lung cancer, called small cell lung cancer or SCLC, was once more common in males than females. However, the gap is closing because the rate of lung cancer in men has dropped over the past decade.

SCLC typically develops near the central airways of the lungs, and it often spreads to the brain. Early symptoms may include:

  • headaches
  • vision changes
  • weakness on one side of the body
  • changes in behavior

When to see a doctor

People with lung cancer typically have few or no symptoms when the disease is in an initial stage. By the time it has advanced enough to cause symptoms, it may have spread to other parts of the body. This is true in both males and females.

When people do have symptoms, they often mistake them for the effects of smoking or symptoms of a less serious condition, such as an infection.

Early diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer can improve a person’s outlook. If a person experiences any of the following, they should see a doctor:

  • shortness of breath
  • a cough that does not go away
  • blood in sputum
  • blood that comes up with a cough
  • chest pain
  • bone pain
  • weight loss that is not easy to explain
  • hoarseness
  • headaches


Diagnosis

patient in mri scan
Imaging tests can ensure an accurate diagnosis.

In the U.S., doctors are now able to diagnose and successfully treat lung cancers at early stages in both males and females. People who receive treatment for lung cancer at an early stage have a better chance of living longer.

To look for signs of lung cancer, a doctor may start by asking about a person’s general health and any symptoms. The doctor may then perform a physical examination and a spirometry test. In this test, the doctor asks the person to breathe into a small device called a spirometer, which can help diagnose lung problems.

The doctor may also order a blood test to exclude other conditions that may be causing the symptoms, such as lung infections.

To ensure an accurate diagnosis and to rule out other conditions, a doctor may also recommend one or more of the following tests:

  • Imaging tests. These allow doctors to look inside the body for signs of lung cancer and other diseases. Imaging tests may include a chest X-ray or a CT scan.
  • Sputum cytology. During this exam, people are asked to cough up a small amount of sputum, which the doctor then analyses under a microscope to look for cancer cells.
  • Biopsy. In this procedure, the doctor collects a small sample of cells from a person’s lungs to analyze in the lab. To collect the cells, the doctor inserts a thin tube through the person’s mouth or nose.


Tips for coping with symptoms

There are some simple measures a person can take to help relieve symptoms and prevent them from getting worse.

One of the most important steps is to stop smoking or using other tobacco products. A person should also reduce exposure to second-hand smoke. This can help a person to breathe more easily and improve symptoms such as breathlessness and coughing.

The following tips may also help with shortness of breath:

  • breathing slowly, by gently inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth
  • trying to remain calm and relaxed, for example by listening to music, meditating, or reading a book
  • directing cool air toward the face by turning on a fan or opening a window
  • finding a comfortable position and leaning forward
  • avoiding activities that can encourage shortness of breath, for example by taking the elevator instead of using the stairs
  • eating smaller meals more frequently, and avoiding large mouthfuls of food

A doctor can also provide medications and oxygen to help relieve symptoms of breathlessness.

Some people with lung cancer also benefit from therapies that aim to relieve pain, stress, and anxiety, such as:

Outlook

Lung cancer is the leading cause of death from cancer among men and women in the U.S.

However, early detection and treatment can significantly improve a person’s outlook. Anyone who experiences the symptoms in this article should see a doctor.

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