Lung cancer & back pain

Lung cancer is the No. 1 cause of cancer deaths. The American Cancer Society says approximately 159,000 men and women will die from lung cancer in 2009. In its earliest stages, lung cancer doesn't usually have any symptoms. If the disease spreads to other areas of the body, one of its signs can be back pain.

A Highly Preventable Disease

Most lung cancer deaths are preventable. According to the Mayo Clinic, smoking is responsible for almost 90 per cent of lung cancer cases. You can substantially reduce your chances of getting lung cancer if you quit smoking. You can also lower your risk of contracting the disease by avoiding second hand smoke and exposure to asbestos and radon. The National Cancer Institute says studies show there are more cases of lung cancer in cities with high air pollution levels.

Symptoms of Lung Cancer

There are few, if any, signs that lung cancer is present until it has advanced. Warning signs that you may have the disease include a new, persistent cough or changes in a so-called smokers cough. You may also start to cough up small amounts of blood, experience chest pain, shortness of breath and wheezing. Sometimes there is a swelling of the face and neck, weight loss and fatigue.

Lung Cancer & Back Pain

Back pain is not generally considered to be a common symptom of lung cancer unless the cancer has metastasised, that is, spread beyond the lungs.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology says lung cancer most often spreads to the lymph nodes, bones, brain, liver and to the adrenal glands, which are structures near the kidneys. Depending on which organ is affected, symptoms may include abdominal or back pain and headaches.

When Lung Cancer Spreads to the Spine

If lung cancer moves into the spine or bones, you may experience back pain as well as a weakness in the arms and or legs. The Mayo Clinic says middle or lower back pain is the most common symptom of cancerous spinal tumours. The pain may be more severe at night or when you first wake up.

Treatment & Prognosis

The National Cancer Institute says there are several types of lung cancer, and each is treated differently. Treatment also varies depending on the stage of the cancer, but it generally includes chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.

Lung cancer survival rates remain grim. The Mayo Clinic says 60 per cent of people diagnosed with the disease die within one year. Those diagnosed early have the best chances to make a full recovery.

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About the Author

Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell is a broadcast journalist who began writing professionally in 1980. Her writing focuses on parenting and health, and has appeared in “Spirituality & Health Magazine" and “Essential Wellness.” Hellesvig-Gaskell has worked with autistic children at the Fraser School in Minneapolis and as a child care assistant for toddlers and preschoolers at the International School of Minnesota, Eden Prairie.