Symptoms of lung cancer in men can differ from symptoms of lung cancer in women. Just as men are more likely to have “typical” heart attack symptoms than women, men may be more likely to have “typical” symptoms of lung cancer.
That said, some of the symptoms of lung cancer in men can be misdiagnosed as other conditions, and in order to detect lung cancer in the early, more curable stages, it is important to be aware of some of these less common symptoms as well.
Why are Symptoms of Lung Cancer in Men Different than Symptoms of Lung Cancer in Women?One reason that symptoms of lung cancer differ between men and women is that the most common types of lung cancer are different in men and women –- and different types of lung cancer tend to have different symptoms.
Another reason for the difference is that a higher percentage of men who develop lung cancer have smoked in the past, and some types of lung cancer are linked more strongly with smoking.
Symptoms Related to Lung Cancer Type
Non-small cell lung cancers account for roughly 80% of lung cancers. There are three main types of non-small cell lung cancers:
In men, squamous cell carcinoma of the lungs is more common. Squamous cell carcinomas tend to grow in or near the major airways and often create symptoms early on in the disease. These symptoms may include:
- Chronic cough
- Coughing up blood
- Shortness of breath
- Repeated lung infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia, or lung collapse (atelectasis) due to obstruction of the airways by the tumor
In contrast, the most common type of lung cancer in women is adenocarcinoma. Lung adenocarcinomas tend to grow in the outer regions of the lungs. These tumors can grow quite large or spread before they cause any symptoms. Initial symptoms may include shortness of breath with activity, fatigue, and back and shoulder pain rather than typical symptoms, such as coughing.
The vast majority of small cell lung cancers are related to smoking, and small cell lung cancers occur more often in men than in women. Unlike non-small cell lung cancers (which are more common in women), symptoms are often present for only a short time before a diagnosis is made.
Small cell lung cancers usually begin near the large airways and spread early, often to the brain. It’s not uncommon for the first symptoms of small cell lung cancer to be related to brain metastases, and these may include headaches, changes in vision, weakness on one side of the body, or changes in behavior.
Symptoms Seen More Commonly in MenAs noted above, the most common types of lung cancer in men tend to grow near the central airways. These tumors often cause symptoms earlier in the course of the disease, with symptoms related to the presence of the tumor near the airway. As such, coughing up blood, obstruction leading to lung collapse (atelectasis), and coughing might be seen earlier in lung cancers found in men than they would be in women.
Another group of symptoms that are seen occasionally with lung cancer is something called paraneoplastic syndrome. Paraneoplastic syndrome is a group of symptoms caused by hormone-like substances secreted by tumors, and is seen most often with small cell lung cancers, squamous cell lung cancers and large cell carcinomas –- cancers that are found more often in men.
Paraneoplastic symptoms may include an elevated calcium level in the blood (hypercalcemia), a low sodium level, weakness in the upper limbs, loss of coordination, and muscle cramps, among other symptoms.
Less Common SymptomsOne form of non-small cell lung cancer is seen more commonly in young women and people who have never smoked. Bronchioloalveolar Carcinoma (BAC) may have symptoms similar to other lung cancers, but it has also been coined the “masquerader.” It is not uncommon for BAC to be misdiagnosed first as pneumonia or other lung diseases.
Harichand-Herdt, S. and S. Ramalingam. Gender-associated differences in lung cancer: clinical characteristics and treatment outcomes in women. Seminars in Oncology. 2009. 36(6):572-80.
National Cancer Institute. Lung Cancer. Accessed 03/22/13. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/lung
Olak, J. and Y. Colson. Gender differences in lung cancer: Have we really come a long way, baby?. Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery. 2004. 128:346-351.