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Lynne Eldridge MD

Knee Pain May Be First Sign of Lung Cancer

By May 5, 2008

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Lung cancer is suspected most commonly when someone notes a persistent cough, begins to cough up blood, or develops other common symptoms of lung cancer such as shortness of breath or chest pain. Sadly, when these symptoms are present, many of these tumors have already progressed to a stage where a cure is not possible. Studies are in progress to find a way to screen for early stage lung cancer, but the benefits versus risks of this remain highly controversial. Are there any other symptoms those with a history of smoking may want to watch for to perhaps catch lung cancer at an earlier stage?

A recent study suggests that monoarthritis, that is, arthritis confined to only one knee, may be an early sign of lung cancer in some people. This study looked at over 6000 individuals that were seen in a rheumatology clinic. In 1.7% of these patients, arthritis confined to one knee was the first sign of non-small cell lung cancer. All of these patients were diagnosed at a stage when their tumor could be treated with surgery. It should be noted that all of these individuals had been heavy smokers, and quitting smoking remains the single most important goal in avoiding lung cancer.

Though these researchers did not leave us with any practical tips for early detection based on this study, I think anyone with a history of smoking should consider discussing pain in a knee, or for that matter any unexplained symptom, with their health care provider. Have any of you, or your loved ones with lung cancer, had symptoms that are not considered typical for lung cancer?

Isolated knee monoarthritis heralding resectable non-small cell lung cancer. A paraneoplastic syndrome not previously described. 2007. Cantini, F. et al. Ann Rheum Dis. Doi: 10.1136.ard.2007.075333.

September 1, 2009 at 10:35 am
(1) terri ruck says:

yes…….I had a large unexplained swelling in my knee, then a few months later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I am a year and half away from surgery and almost 8 months from last chemo….now the doc is seeing COPD in my lungs, but says she sees no cancer. I have for years had a dry cough. (my kids say they can recognize me in a store from my cough) The large swelling in my knee was never explained. Went away after about 2 weeks. Can you help me make sense of this!!

February 12, 2012 at 4:49 am
(2) Marilyn Bird says:

I have had a chronic cough for years. It has gotten worse. It drives my husband and children and co-workers nuts. I now have knee pain in one all of a sudden. I have lower back pain also on the left side(same as my knee). It is excrutiating when I cough. I have to hold onto something when I cough because it hurts so bad. If I am in bed and cough, I let out a small scream or whimper while putting pressure on the spotthat hurts with my fist. My father died of lung cancer. My son had lymph node cancer. I never smoked but was raised around big time smokers. Imagine every where we went with car windows up and grandparents & parents chain smoking. Help please?

February 5, 2013 at 12:14 pm
(3) monkey says:

You may ave silent acid reflux disease this cause a cough, persistent and very uncomfortable, mm it is caused by a weak musle at the end of the esophagus to the stomach the sphincter muscle gets weak from the stomach and lets in acid and gas up the esphagus, causing coughing spells. look into it I think your symptoms show this.. Sleep with your 2 3 pillows behing you, half up dont lie down flat if the cough stops at night you definetely have it also cut out Tomato Scauce chocolate, oranges grapefruits lemon mints are a big culprit. also drink 3 glasses of water a day one before bedtime Apples are a natural cure for it eat a slice of red deliciouse apple 3 times a day or when attack starts also mylanta

February 11, 2013 at 1:04 am
(4) KC says:

Dear God, I don’t know if it is your intention but this article is enough to scare the begezzus out of people. I should think that there are innumerable horse hoofbeat not zebra hoofbeat causes of knee pain in one leg. A displaced orthotic, a blow to the medial meniscus to name two common ones not to mention that Osteoarthritis tends to attack only one side of the body. When both sides of the body are affected it is thought to be Rheumatoid arthritis. Generally rather than scare people with a wrenched knee I would like to see the American Cancer Society step up its efforts to screen more people as we do with Breast Cancer. Why aren’t people getting chest X-rays especiially if they or there family members smoked or they were exposed to smoke in the worksite. Why can we have a month for respirtatory awareness month and leave the knees out of it?

February 11, 2013 at 9:17 pm
(5) lungcancer says:

Dear KC, You brought up an excellent question, “why aren’t people getting chest x-rays?” It sound logical, but the problem is that well designed clinical studies have found that doing screening chest x-rays even for long term smokers does NOT lower the mortality rate from lung cancer. Therefore these are no longer recommended. The only screening test that has been shown to save lives currently available is screening CT scans for people aged 55 to 74 who have smoked for 30 pack years or more. This accounts for 20% of people with lung cancer. To diagnosed the other 80% of people in a more timely matter we have to rely on people’s awareness of symptoms that have been found to be associated with lung cancer in well designed clinical trials as the one noted above. It’s unfortunate that some people will have to go through a “cancer scare” over concern about symptoms, but if we wish to lower the mortality rate of the leading cause of cancer deaths in men and women worldwide and in the United States, it’s the best thing we have.

March 8, 2013 at 12:13 am
(6) Terrance says:

Thank you so much for writing this article. I was a smoker for 32 years and quit cold turkey last July. Now my knees swell with the slightest exercise. I am 54, but I’m going to ask my doctor for the CT scan.

April 5, 2013 at 10:32 am
(7) Sundas says:

I am 23 years old. i am having severe knee pain for about two weeks.It occurs with sudden jerks and remain for small period then fine. but i mostly feel heavy pain during jerks can it be symptom of cancer?

April 13, 2013 at 1:02 am
(8) BillsSister says:

My Brother had Hodgekins lymphoma (spelling) in the 70′s when he was 14… He was among the first to survive it back then. Last year he developed major rheumatoid arthritis (seemingly suddenly) and a crazy cough for a non-smoker. 4 months later he was diagnosed with cancer of leg, brain, abdomen and lung. We had 35 extra years with him from his childhood cancer… He died within a year of the arthritis diagnosis..

June 6, 2013 at 5:28 pm
(9) ciddeek says:

I was having pain in my back due to kidney stone. CAT scan also detected that I have a small lung nodule & it is likely benign, however, I should follow chest X Ray within 3-6 months. I am non smoker and never drinks.. I have no cough,no pain in chest. I am 72 now with no serious health problem.What should I do ?

June 11, 2013 at 11:21 am
(10) Sundas says:

i am not smoker but i had severe knee pain for two months in only one knee it occurs suddenly and its so sharp that i stop at one place for seconds.

July 3, 2013 at 5:57 pm
(11) darwin says:

WHY do some people ask for medical advice in the comments section of article of all places?!?!?! Do you see anything about a free clinic here? The only people that are going to respond to you are people who have no medical training are not licesned to practice medicine. Is that really who you want to make your health deceions for you? For goodness sakejust go ASK A DOCTOR WHAT YOU SHOULD DO WITH YOUR HEALTH PROBLEMS…not the general public.

July 23, 2013 at 8:44 pm
(12) Trayvon says:

I know young kids with lung cancer and they never smoked, or had parents or relatives that smoke…one child was 5 years old and diagnosed with lung cancer….we all know people who smoked packs of cigarettes for years…and they died of other illnesses…..so as so many have said, get any painful symtoms checked by a professional not a chat room…no offense to these rooms, but everytime I read the comments I think I have every disease listed…soo if you are wondering why I amm here, its because I have knee pain and a cough….and wanted to see what people like us say…..good luck to all the people with illnesses…hope it gets better for you…and please get anything that is painful checked out….

September 27, 2013 at 5:38 pm
(13) Hans says:

My dad recently passed away from lung cancer and he had a painful knee for about two years before this.

October 7, 2013 at 4:24 pm
(14) ouch! says:

i have knee pain too. it is is my left knee on the inside part by my leg. what do you think it is? Im scared now!

January 4, 2014 at 8:16 am
(15) sally says:

iv had a knee pain for over a year, now last month its alot worse and as swelled up. and the sweeling as got worse and its moving up my leg. i am in pain quite alot. i should have gone for xrays 2 weeks ago but i suffer with depression and havnt gone. now reading your artical about knee cancer. think i better go soon. and i am a chain smoker. get back to you soon. im not worried but it also crossed my mind too! thats why i checked up on this site.

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