There are two main types of lung cancer that a person can be diagnosed with: small cell and non-small cell. Both types can grow slowly in the body over a long period of time before they are finally discovered. A diagnosis of the disease may not be made until a patient is ordered to have a chest x-ray, which is usually related to another disease. Because of this late discovery, the disease is usually in its final and most dangerous stage.
Advanced stage cancer is categorized as “stage 4” and means that the disease has reached its final stage after “metastasizing” (spreading from its origin). Patients diagnosed with advanced stage cancer generally have a very low survival rate. About 30 to 40% of diagnosed patients show signs of cancer metastasis. Only a small percentage of these patients will survive more than five years after diagnosis.
When a patient exhibits symptoms such as severe headache, blurred vision, nausea and vomiting; this usually means that the cancer has metastasized to the brain. Neurological disorders such as seizures, ataxia and confusion may also be experienced. A CT scan (computed tomography) or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) may be ordered to determine the exact location and size of the tumor in the brain.
A dull, persistent pain in the back (usually in the spine) may indicate that the cancer has metastasized into the spinal cord. Bladder or bowel dysfunction may also be accompanied by some degree of sensory loss. Paraparesis (a weakness of the limbs) or paraplegia (an impairment of motor or sensory function of the lower limbs) are other symptoms that may be experienced.
Small bone fractures are commonly found in patients with non-small cell cancer when the cancer has metastasized. These small fractures can cause severe pain and discomfort for many people with the disease. The pain is usually localized in bones such as those found in the hands, feet, ribs, spine, pelvis, and proximal long bones (parts of the bone [arm or leg] which are located closest to the body). An x-ray is usually ordered to determine the exact location of the cancer.
When the liver has been affected, a patient may experience noticeable weight loss (usually rapidly over a short period of time). While there is no apparent reason for this, it can sometimes be associated with unexplained loss of appetite. Signs of jaundice (yellowing of the skin), nausea, fever, and pain in the right upper quadrant may also be apparent.
Other symptoms that may indicate that the cancer has metastasized include coughing up small amounts of blood, wheezing, shortness of breath, and severe chest pain.