News & Blogs
November 27 2020

Lung Cancer: Stats, Facts, and Unexpected Signs You Need to Know

Cancer is the second leading cause of death worldwide. In 2018 alone, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that caused around 9.8 million deaths in 2018.
Out of all the types, lung cancer is the most common globally. Approximately 2.09 million people are being diagnosed with it annually, taking around 1.76 million lives. Detecting the early signs of lung cancer is critical for receiving the proper treatment and improving the chances of recovery.
Awareness and access to information are the first steps to preventing this disease. The infographic below will discuss everything you need to know: key statistics, lesser-known facts, and unexpected symptoms to watch out for.


Fascinating Facts About Lung Cancer

Despite how widespread the disease is, some facts surrounding the disease, its detection, and causes may not be common knowledge.
  • Nonsmokers can get lung cancer from secondhand smoke, air pollution, asbestos exposure, diesel fumes, and radon gas

While 85% of lung cancer cases are caused by cigarette smoking, it can also occur in nonsmokers due to several reasons. These include secondhand smoke, air pollution, and exposure to harmful substances like asbestos, diesel fumes, and radon gas.
Nonsmokers have a 20–30% increased chance of developing lung cancer when exposed to secondhand smoke at home or in the workplace. Meanwhile, exposure to radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas, is the second-leading cause of lung cancer, with around 21,000 deaths attributed to it each year.
  • Carcinoid tumor, a type of lung cancer, has a high survival rate

There are three types of lung cancer: small cell, non-small cell, and lung carcinoid tumor. While small cell and non-small cell are the most common, lung carcinoid tumors make up less than 5% of all cases. The spread of carcinoid lung cancer is slow, and it rarely moves to other organs, giving patients a high, five-year survival rate.
  • X-rays are an ineffective diagnostic tool when trying to detect lung cancer at its early stages; CT scan works best

Spotting the early signs of lung cancer is critical for increasing the chances of survival. If cancer has not yet spread to other areas of the body, the five-year survival rate can reach as high as 80–90%.
More telling symptoms like persistent coughs, unexplained weight loss, constant chest pains, and shortness of breath only appear during the later stages. Using CT scans to detect lung cancer signs in high-risk patients reduces the death rate by around 20%.
However, CT scans may return false positives as scar tissue, or benign lumps can be confused with cancer. But these are still recommended for high-risk individuals because the benefits outweigh the possible risk of false positives and exposure to radiation.
  • Frequency of smoking is measured in pack years

Smokers are among the high-risk groups for lung cancer. Medical professionals determine the level of risk in smokers by measuring “pack years.” One pack year is equivalent to smoking one pack of cigarettes a day for an entire year. Individuals with a smoking history of at least 30 pack years are at the highest risk of developing the disease.
  • Only 16% of lung cancers are detected in their early stage

In lung cancer, early detection can improve the chances of survival. The five-year survival rate is 56% when it is still within the lungs but drops to 5% once it spreads to other organs.

Unexpected Signs to Look Out For

Signs of lung cancer go beyond the lungs since other parts of the body can be affected by the onset of the disease. The following are other possible signs of lung cancer:
  • Swollen fingertips

Also known as “digital clubbing,” this is caused by hormone-like chemicals produced by some lung tumors. The chemicals trigger a reaction, causing fluid to gather in the fingertips and making the area swell up. While clubbing is not common, it is strongly associated with lung cancer, as around 80% of those afflicted with the deformity also have the disease.
  • Shoulder or back pain

A Pancoast tumor is a type of lung cancer that manifests within the upper portions of the lungs. It can then spread to the ribs, spine, blood vessels, and nerves. Due to its location, it may compress the nerves and cause sudden and intense or persistent shoulder or upper back pain. However, these signs alone are not enough to determine the presence of lung cancer.
  • Eye problems

By growing at the top of the lungs, Pancoast tumors can affect the nerves in an eye. This phenomenon, known as Horner syndrome, causes symptoms like drooping or weakness of the eyelid, a smaller pupil, or little to no sweating on the side of the affected eye.
  • Hoarse voice or vocal changes

Sudden changes in the voice without other symptoms like colds or sore throat can be linked to lung cancer. While hoarseness is common in advanced cases, difficulty in making sounds may be an early sign of the disease.
More often than not, vocal changes in early-stage lung cancer are caused by the paralysis of the recurrent laryngeal nerve, which goes through the chest close to the left lung.
  • Tiredness and fatigue

One of the most common effects of lung cancer on the body is the development of anemia or a low red blood cell count. This can cause feelings of debilitating fatigue due to the body’s tissue receiving inadequate amounts of oxygen. The compression of the superior vena cava can also contribute to feelings of light-headedness and dizziness.
  • Muscle weakness

The development of small-cell lung cancer can lead to muscle weakness, which can make everyday activities more difficult. This symptom may be caused by Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome, an autoimmune disease that disrupts the nerve transmissions to the muscles. While rare, more than half of all cases of this autoimmune disease are attributed to lung cancer.
  • Stomach problems

Some types of lung cancer alter the way the body works through the production of hormone-like chemicals. One of its effects is raising the calcium levels of the blood, a condition known as hypercalcemia. This leads to stomach aches, nausea, or constipation, and it dampens appetite or aggravates thirst.
This chemical may also affect the kidneys, which can contribute to abdominal cramps and nausea.
  • Mental health issues

Mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, can be a sign of lung cancer, with several probable causes. These include adverse effects on the immune system or hormones and the possible spread of cancer to the brain. Additionally, cancer-related hypercalcemia can also lead to confusion, muddled thinking, and depression.

Early Detection Can Save Lives

As the old saying goes, prevention is better than cure, and this has never been truer when it comes to a terminal illness such as lung cancer. Knowing the risk factors for lung cancer and identifying its early-stage symptoms can increase the chances of survival. For lung cancer treatments and diagnoses, visit the Makati Medical Center Cancer Center today.