Now let's look at what happens when a tumor starts growing in your lung.
The cells in your body all grow and multiply when they need to. This is a normal process. But sometimes, things go wrong with the signals that tell cells when to grow and divide. As a result, the cells can begin to divide more quickly and out of control. When this happens, they can form a mass, or tumor, in one area.
A tumor can be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Benign tumors grow in one area and stay there. They don't spread to other places in the body. A malignant tumor, which is another name for cancer, can grow fast and either push healthy tissue out of place or actually take the place of the healthy tissue. Cancer cells in a malignant tumor can also break away from the original mass and spread to other parts of your body. Here, they may grow and divide to form another malignant tumor.
A tumor can cause fluid to build up inside your lung, which may cause you to cough. Coughing is your body's way of getting rid of things that can keep your lungs from working right. You may cough up blood if the tumor causes small blood vessels in the lung to break down and bleed into the bronchial tubes.
Although the most common symptoms of lung cancer are a persistent cough and coughing up blood, a malignant tumor growing inside a lung can also cause:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Pneumonia or other lung infections
- Fluid buildup between the chest wall and the lungs
- Weight loss
- A hoarse voice.
You should tell your healthcare provider if you have any of these symptoms.
Unfortunately, lung cancers that are very small usually don't cause problems or symptoms, and they often aren't seen on x-rays. This makes them difficult to find early on. As a result, doctors usually don't detect a lung tumor until it's larger. Sometimes, a tumor may not be found on an x-ray at all. It may only be noticed when the doctor listens to you breathe and hears something that sounds like a blockage or fluid in your lung.
We don't use all of the space in our lungs for normal daily activities, so if a part of the lung isn't working right because of a tumor, you might not notice it at all. Or you might only notice a problem during heavy exercise, when you need to use more of the space in your lungs.
Another reason why lung cancer often isn't found early is that many people who get it also have other lung problems. Some of the symptoms from the tumor, such as coughing and frequent lung infections, may not be much different from the symptoms of other lung problems, like those related to smoking. However, you may begin having these problems more frequently or experience them in more severe ways, like getting pneumonia.
Because a malignant lung tumor may not cause problems until it has been there a long time, the cancer cells have a better chance of breaking away, traveling to other parts of the body, and growing into new tumors. When a tumor is finally found, you may be having problems with your lungs as well as with other parts of your body. Some of the symptoms of serious lung cancer are:
- Weight loss for no apparent reason
- Bone pain
- Changes in nervous system function.
For a tumor that can be operated on, it's important to take it out as soon as possible. This can help keep it from spreading more within the lung and to other parts of your body.