What Are the Differences in the Signs and Symptoms of Lung Cancer and Pneumonia?
Lung Cancer Symptoms and Signs
Up to one-fourth of all people with lung cancer may have no symptoms by the time cancer is diagnosed. These cancers usually are diagnosed incidentally when a chest X-ray is performed for another reason. However, most people develop symptoms of lung cancer before being diagnosed. Lung cancer symptoms are due to direct effects of the primary tumor. However, if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, it may cause problems with the body’s hormones, blood, and function of other organs.
Symptoms of primary lung cancers include:
- Coughing up blood (hemoptysis) , which occurs in a significant number of people who have lung cancer. Any amount of coughed-up blood is cause for concern. If you have a cough that does not go away or gets worse, call a doctor for an evaluation.
- Chest pain that is dull, aching, and persistent occur in about one-fourth of people with lung cancer.
- Shortness of breath usually results from an airflow blockage in part of the lung, collection of fluid around the lung (pleural effusion), or the spread of tumor throughout the lungs.
Other signs and symptoms of lung cancer include:
- Wheezing or hoarseness, which cause blockage or inflammation in the lungs.
- Repeated respiratory infections, such as bronchitis or pneumonia.
Symptoms of lung tumors that have spread to other areas of the body depends upon their location and size. About 30% to 40% of people with lung cancer have some symptoms or signs of cancer that has spread.
Lung cancer most often spreads to the liver, the adrenal glands, the bones, and the brain.
- Metastatic lung cancer in the liver may cause a loss of appetite, feeling full early on while eating, and otherwise unexplained weight loss.
- Metastatic lung cancer in the adrenal glands also typically causes no symptoms.
- Metastasis to the bones is most common with small cell cancers but also occurs with other lung cancer types. Lung cancer that has metastasized to the bone causes bone pain, usually in the backbone (vertebrae), the large bones of the thigh (the femurs), the pelvic bones, and the ribs.
- Lung cancer that spreads to the brain can cause difficulties with vision, weakness on one side of the body, and/or seizures.
Paraneoplastic syndromes are the remote, indirect effects of cancer not related to direct invasion of an organ by tumor cells. Often chemicals released from the cancers cause them. Symptoms of paraneoplastic syndromes include:
- Clubbing of fingers -- the depositing of extra tissue under the fingernails
- New bone formation -- along the lower legs or arms
- Increased risk of blood clots in the arms, legs, or lungs
- Low sodium levels
- High calcium levels
- Low potassium levels
- Degenerative conditions of the nervous system otherwise unexplained.
Pneumonia Symptoms and Signs
Most people who develop pneumonia initially have symptoms of a cold (upper respiratory infection, for example, sneezing, sore throat, cough), which are then followed by a high fever (sometimes as high as 104 F), shaking chills, and a cough with sputum production. The sputum is usually discolored and sometimes bloody. Depending on the location of the infection, certain symptoms are more likely to develop.
When the infection settles in the air passages, cough and sputum tend to predominate the symptoms. In some, the spongy tissue of the lungs that contain the air sacs is more involved. In this case, oxygenation of the blood can be impaired, along with stiffening of the lung, which results in shortness of breath. At times, the individual's skin color may change and become dusky or purplish (a condition known as cyanosis) due to their blood being poorly oxygenated.
The only pain fibers in the lung are on the surface of the lung, in the area known as the pleura. Chest pain may develop if the outer aspects of the lung close to the pleura are involved in the infection. This pain usually is sharp, and worsens when taking a deep breath. This pain is called pleuritic pain or pleurisy.
Depending upon the cause of the infection, the only symptoms of pneumonia may be cough that worsens, headaches, and muscle aches that develop slowly.
Children and babies who develop pneumonia often do not have any specific signs of a chest infection, but develop a fever, appear quite ill, and can become lethargy. Elderly people also may have few of the characteristic symptoms with pneumonia.