Signs of Lung Cancer in Smokers vs. Non Smokers

Signs of Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is a very serious condition. It is characterized by abnormal cells that grow out of control within one or both lungs. The cells associated with the cancer do not promote tissue growth or function normally and this can thus create problems for overall lung utility. In time, the decreased level of functioning caused from the cell overgrowth can affect blood oxygenation throughout the body.

There are two main types of cancerous lung disease. Non small cell lung cancers are the most common, and the type where the better known lung cancer staging comes into play. There are four stages of the disease, with the symptoms and signs of lung cancer growing more evident with each and every stage. In stage one, the least serious, no spreading has occurred and symptoms are minimal if at all present. Stage two and three refer to the gradual spreading of the lung disease first to the local lymph nodes, and then to those that are further from the lungs. The final stage of lung cancer, which is known as advanced disease, indicates fluid or organ spread as well as both lungs.

In small cell lung cancer, which is much less prevalent than non small cell cancer, the abnormal cells grow much more rapidly. Additionally, the spread throughout the body is much swifter than in non small cell cancer. While the signs of lung cancer may be more evident and abrupt with this type of cancer, it also may be more reactive to chemotherapy, a common form of lung cancer treatment and therapy. Its stages are much more concise, with only “limited” and “extended” stages used to describe the reach of the illness.

These two types of lung cancer differ in another way too, and that is the way they compare between smokers and non smokers. While both types of cancer can occur in smokers and non smokers, small cell lung cancer does tend to occur more often in smokers than in non smokers, although overall the cancer is much less common than the non small cell variations. Interestingly enough, while smoking plays a clear role in the development of lung cancer in the majority of individuals, it may also play a role in the formation of symptoms and signs of lung cancer, with those in smokers and non smokers differing somewhat, particularly with regards what type of cancer is ensuing.

For instance, while coughing up mucus is a common symptom in both smokers and non smokers that have various types of lung cancer, it may occur much earlier in smokers than in non smokers. This is because lung cancers found in smokers tend to bear tumors that are found closer to the airways, promoting earlier coughing and thus, coughing up mucus more commonly.

This tendency to promote coughing also means that another phenomenon, known as hemoptysis, tends to be not more predominant, but earlier to display in smokers. Hemoptysis is the act of coughing up blood that originates from the lungs, trachea, or bronchi. Because of the typical tumor location tendencies in smokers, this phenomenon may occur earlier and in earlier cancer stages in smokers versus non smokers. And, while there is little that is good about these signs of lung cancer appearing early, they do help to differentiate the condition from other types of lung ailments.

Unfortunately, lung cancer symptoms are not always abundantly evident. While coughing up blood can be a fast indication that something is seriously wrong, it can also be attributed to common conditions like bronchitis or pneumonia, which unfortunately lung cancer is often mistaken for. And, less telling symptoms like fatigue and weakness, muscle cramps and low sodium levels, can be all but impossible to attribute to lung cancer symptoms.

Aside from these differences in timing and severity concerning the signs of lung cancer, there is also a lot to be said about its recurrence. While it is true that non smokers do become affected by the condition, more than 8 in 10 cases are directly related to cigarette smoking. This prevalence rate may have another alarming effect on the signs of lung cancer. While some of the more ominous ones appear earlier in smokers, all the signs and symptoms may be mistaken entirely in non smokers, because without a family history or risk factors, the disease may not even be considered early on (especially with a lack of serious and telling symptoms). Thus, it is not uncommon for it to be mistaken in non smokers for other conditions such as the case of Bronchioloalveolar Carcinoma, a cancer found more in non smoking women that is frequently mislabeled as pneumonia in early stages.

The truth is that the signs of lung cancer are not always clear cut, and they are nearly identical in smokers and non smokers, with the exception of coughing related symptoms possibly presenting earlier in the former. One thing is for certain however; quitting smoking immediately can in short time reduce the risk of lung cancer, with an even greater decrease the longer that smoking is abstained from. Quitting smoking promotes lung, heart, cardiovascular and brain health and so much more, allowing the body to be healthier and more resistant to disease.