Signs and Symptoms of Lung Cancer in Men

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With lung cancer being the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in males, it's extremely important to understand how lung cancer symptoms and signs may specifically present in men so they can be caught early, when the disease is most treatable.

Just as heart disease affects men and women differently, lung cancer in men and lung cancer in women can vary. Biology is certainly a reason for this difference that must be considered, but a main reason experts cite is differences in tobacco smoking amongst the two groups. Because men are more likely than women to smoke, they’re more susceptible to the types of lung cancers that affect smokers. As such, their symptoms will frequently be specific to those conditions.

Frequent Symptoms of Lung Cancer in Men

Non-small cell lung cancers (NSCLC) account for up to 85% of lung cancers; about 10% to 15% of lung cancer diagnoses are small-cell lung cancers (SCLC). There are some additional rarer types of tumors as well.

NSCLC and SCLC are divided into different subtypes, each of which has specific symptoms and affect the body in different ways.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

In men, the most common form of lung cancer has historically been squamous cell carcinoma, although some research shows that it is becoming less frequent. It accounts for about 33% of male lung cancer diagnoses.

Also known as epidermoid carcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas tend to begin in the tissues that line the major airways. Smokers are at greater risk for these cancers so it is more common in men. While other types of lung cancer often have no symptoms in the early stags, these tumors that directly impact the airways may cause persistent coughing, or you may even begin coughing up blood early on. As the disease progresses, you may start to have symptoms such as:

  • Worsening chronic cough with or without blood or mucus
  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Fatigue
  • Discomfort when swallowing
  • Chest pain
  • Fever
  • Hoarseness
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Poor appetite
  • High levels of calcium in the blood

Adenocarcinoma

Adenocarcinoma, a type of NSCLC that begins in tissue near the outer portion of the lungs, seems to have become more prevalent in men than squamous cell carcinoma in recent years, with rates as high as 41%.

As with many types of lung cancer, there are often no signs of disease in the early stages of this cancer. When symptoms do finally appear, they are often less obvious than other forms of lung cancer and may include:

This differs from typical lung cancer symptoms, such as coughing.

In these early stages, the first sign of a problem may come from a chest X-ray or CT scan that you might have done for some other medical reason.

In later stages, adenocarcinoma may manifest with common lung cancer symptoms, including:

  • Persistent cough
  • Coughing up blood or mucus
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Trouble breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Fever
  • Discomfort when swallowing
  • Hoarseness
  • Weight loss
  • Poor appetite

If the cancer spreads (metastasizes) beyond the lungs to other body parts and organs, other symptoms may arise. For example, when lung cancer spreads to the bones, you may feel severe pain. Meanwhile, lung cancer metastatic to the brain can cause vision problems, headaches, and loss of balance.

Rare Symptoms

Bronchioloalveolar carcinoma (BAC), a subtype of lung adenocarcinoma found mostly in women and nonsmokers, is a less frequent male lung cancer. Still, there are cases in men.

BAC may have symptoms similar to other lung cancers, but it's also not uncommon for BAC to be misdiagnosed first as pneumonia or another lung disease.

Complications

In approximately 10% of all people with lung cancer, a group of disorders known as paraneoplastic syndromes occurs. These disorders are caused by secretions from the cancer cells or an immune response to the tumors. The effect is to disrupt regular body functions in many different ways.

The two most common paraneoplastic syndromes associated with lung cancer are:

  • Hypercalcemia: This disorder occurs with squamous cell carcinoma. It's caused by elevated blood calcium levels and symptoms include dehydration, constipation, kidney problems, and confusion.
  • Syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone secretion (SIADH): A complication of NSCLC, this syndrome happens because of low sodium in the blood (hyponatremia). Symptoms may include headaches, muscle weakness, memory loss, fatigue, and seizures.

When to See a Doctor

Whenever you have symptoms of lung cancer, discuss them with your doctor, especially if you have ever been a smoker or regularly inhaled second-hand smoke, or if you were exposed to radon or carcinogenic chemicals such as formaldehyde and asbestos. If you meet the criteria for being at risk for lung cancer, you may want to talk with your doctor about being screened for lung cancer.

As frightening as it may be to hear that you have cancer, an early diagnosis can provide peace of mind and the best chance for beating the disease.

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