July 23, 2024

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What Are the Top 10 Complications of Lung Cancer?

What Are the Top 10 Complications of Lung Cancer?

What Are the Top 10 Complications of Lung Cancer?

Late-stage lung cancer patients often experience various complications that can cause harm and potentially reduce their quality of life and survival.

Therefore, it’s not just cancer cells that pose a threat but also the complications associated with them.

Preventing and managing these complications become a crucial part of comprehensive treatment for lung cancer patients.

We hope that those reading this article can take proactive steps to prevent and detect these complications early.

What Are the Top 10 Complications of Lung Cancer?

1. Malignant Pleural Effusion

Malignant pleural effusion, often referred to as “pleural fluid,” is one of the most common complications in late-stage lung cancer patients. Over half of lung cancer patients experience varying degrees of pleural effusion.

This condition is primarily caused by tumor invasion of the pleura, tumor compression of lymphatic vessels, or hypoalbuminemia. Patients typically exhibit worsening breathlessness, chest pain, and dry cough. The severity of breathlessness depends on the volume of pleural fluid, the rate of fluid formation, and the patient’s underlying lung function.

With a small amount of fluid or slow formation, patients may experience mild breathlessness, chest tightness, and shortness of breath.

However, if the fluid volume is significant, it can cause significant lung compression, leading to worsened breathlessness, and even symptoms like orthopnea and cyanosis.

For lung cancer patients, malignant pleural effusion can be managed through appropriate treatments.

2. Infections

Late-stage lung cancer progresses rapidly, consuming a significant amount of the body’s resources and weakening the immune system. Most patients undergo chemotherapy as part of their treatment, which, like a herbicide, affects both weeds and flowers. Chemotherapy kills cancer cells but can also harm normal cells, especially affecting white blood cells.

White blood cells are the body’s “guards” in the fight against diseases. When pathogens enter the body, white blood cells can deform and pass through capillary walls, gathering at the site of invasion to surround and engulf the pathogens. Lung cancer patients already have weakened immune systems, and chemotherapy, along with factors like bone marrow suppression, often results in a significant drop in white blood cell count.

Low white blood cell count greatly increases the risk of infection. Common symptoms for lung cancer patients include pulmonary infections, leading to fever, chills, coughing, and sputum production. Other infections, such as urinary tract infections, can also occur, leading to symptoms like fever, urgency, dysuria, and difficulty urinating.

Any appearance of these symptoms should not be taken lightly, and prompt medical attention is essential.

3. Blood Clots

Blood clots are formed when a small amount of blood coagulates due to factors like arterial hardening or damage to the blood vessel wall. When these blood clots break off and circulate through the bloodstream to other organs, it can cause blockages elsewhere. Research shows that the incidence of venous thromboembolism (VTE) in late-stage non-small cell lung adenocarcinoma patients is 15%, and certain medications used during treatment can increase the risk of blood clots.

Once a blood clot causes embolisms in critical organs like the heart, brain, or lungs, it can lead to severe conditions like heart attacks, strokes, and pulmonary embolisms, potentially endangering life. Symptoms include hemiplegia and aphasia for strokes, angina for heart attacks, severe chest pain and shortness of breath for pulmonary embolisms, and leg swelling, pain, and intermittent claudication for lower limb clots.

Blood clots are often “silent killers” with subtle or no symptoms. For instance, deep vein thrombosis in the lower limbs may initially only cause leg discomfort, but by the time typical symptoms like chest pain and shortness of breath occur, it may have already missed the optimal treatment window. Thus, vigilance for these symptoms and proactive treatment are crucial.

4. Hemoptysis (Coughing Up Blood)

In the United States, nearly one-fourth of hemoptysis cases are caused by lung cancer. Hemoptysis, medically defined as coughing up blood from the lungs or bronchi, is a common complication in late-stage lung cancer patients. The invasive growth of tumors in the lungs can cause rupture of lung blood vessels and bronchial arteries, leading to significant hemoptysis. Additionally, cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy, chemotherapy, tumor necrosis, and varying degrees of bone marrow suppression can also experience hemoptysis.

The amount of blood in hemoptysis is one of the indicators for treatment. Treatment depends on whether the bleeding is massive or not. Clinical guidelines may vary, but less than 10% of cases are considered to involve massive bleeding. Hemoptysis management typically involves sedation, rest, and symptomatic treatment.

5. Hypercalcemia

The incidence of hypercalcemia in lung cancer patients ranges from 8% to 12.5%, with squamous cell carcinoma patients being more susceptible, with reported rates of up to 23%. Lung cancer patients may retain excess calcium in their blood due to bone destruction caused by metastatic cancer.

Tumors can secrete parathyroid hormone, leading to increased calcium reabsorption in bones and the production of parathyroid hormone-related protein.

Clinical symptoms and signs of hypercalcemia include fatigue, loss of appetite, abdominal distension, apathy, and drowsiness. Late-stage lung cancer patients, especially those with widespread bone metastases, should pay attention to periodic blood calcium tests to prevent misdiagnosis and missed diagnoses.

6. Heart Complications

Some lung cancer cells can migrate to the vicinity of the heart or major blood vessels in the body. When this happens, cancer cells can block certain veins and arteries, leading to swelling in the chest, neck, or face, as well as symptoms like headaches, dizziness, vision problems, and fatigue.

When lung cancer spreads to the pericardium (the membrane covering the heart’s surface, which protects and maintains constant blood volume in the heart chambers), it can lead to an accumulation of fluid in the pericardial cavity, compressing the heart and impairing its ability to pump blood. Patients often experience dyspnea, sit in an upright position, appear pale, and may develop facial, limb edema. Initially, symptoms of heart disease may include dyspnea and increased heart rate during exertion or activity. Recognizing these symptoms is crucial as they may signify cardiac involvement by lung cancer.

7. Spinal Cord Compression

If cancer spreads and puts pressure on the spinal cord, it can lead to spinal cord compression (SCC). Similar to superior vena cava syndrome (SVCS), this complication is a medical emergency. Early recognition of symptoms is essential for effective treatment, helping to relieve pain, limit nerve damage, and prevent permanent disabilities. Patients who experience numbness in their fingers or toes (neuropathy), difficulty walking, or loss of control over the bladder or bowels (incontinence) should seek immediate medical assistance.

8. Pain

Pain can occur in the chest or anywhere cancer spreads. Typically, pain is felt as the disease progresses. Initially, discomfort may come and go, but over time, it can become continuous. Comprehensive treatment principles should be applied to manage cancer pain effectively, taking into account the patient’s condition and health status. The goal is to eliminate pain, reduce pain intensity, improve the patient’s daily life quality, and enhance their ability to fight the disease.

9. Dyspnea (Shortness of Breath)

Dyspnea is often seen in advanced-stage lung cancer patients. It can result from factors like malignant pleural effusion, tumor compression of the trachea or bronchus, tumor progression leading to compromised lung function, or metastasis to lymph nodes. In these cases, prompt management and palliative care are necessary.

10. Mental Health Issues

Late-stage lung cancer patients often experience mental health challenges due to factors like pain, severe symptoms, the stress of their diagnosis, and the emotional toll of their condition on themselves and their loved ones. Managing mental health and providing emotional support is an important aspect of comprehensive care for lung cancer patients.

In conclusion

Lung cancer is a complex and challenging disease, often associated with various complications that can significantly affect patients’ quality of life and overall health.

However, with proper medical care, symptom management, and emotional support, it’s possible to improve the well-being of individuals living with lung cancer and help them navigate the complexities of their condition.

Early detection and timely intervention can also make a substantial difference in the outcomes for lung cancer patients.



How to Prevent and Treat Common Complications of Lung Cancer?


What Are the Top 10 Complications of Lung Cancer?

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