The belief that lung cancer develops stealthily until it’s too late for treatment may be inaccurate. Many patients recall having symptoms several months before their diagnosis, recent study findings suggest.
“It is generally believed that lung cancer is silent, having no signs or symptoms before it is far advanced,” Dr. Jessica L. Corner, of the University of Southampton, UK, said in an interview with AMN Health. Her group’s findings, however, suggest that this is not the case.
Corner and colleagues examined the path to diagnosis in 22 patients with recently confirmed lung cancer. The researchers conducted interviews with the patients and gathered data from their hospital and doctor’s records.
The subjects experienced a total of 30 different symptoms prior to diagnosis, the investigators report in the medical journal Thorax. The patients recalled having new symptoms for many months, regardless of the disease stage at the time of diagnosis.
The most common were chest symptoms, including cough, breathing changes, and chest or rib pain. More generalized symptoms, including fatigue, lethargy and weight loss, were also common.
“The second and related finding was that patients had all delayed visiting a doctor about their symptoms for many months, as they did not interpret their symptoms as serious or as possible signs of lung cancer,” Corner said.
“If the public were made more aware of the possible symptoms of lung cancer and believed that presenting early with them might mean they would get more effective treatment, it might be possible to diagnose some patients at an earlier stage,” Corner concluded.
Corner’s team hopes to confirm these findings in a larger study. They also plan to compare the pre-diagnosis symptoms of lung cancer patients with those of patients with other common conditions, to see if there are any characteristics that may help physicians identify patients at risk of lung cancer more easily.
SOURCE: Thorax, April 2005.
Revision date: June 11, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD