Shoulder pain can be symptomatic of lung cancer. In fact, it is often the first one that people notice. That said, shoulder pain as a symptom of lung cancer is still poorly understood by most people. This is why so few seek medical attention at that point. At the same time, it is important to understand that not every case of shoulder pain means you have lung cancer, nor does every lung cancer patient experience shoulder pain.
Shoulder Pain as a Symptom of Lung Cancer:
There are a number of different reasons why shoulder pain can relate to lung cancer:
1. Referred pain, whereby the pain is elsewhere, but it is felt in the shoulder. The tumor, for instance, may press on the phrenic nerve. The brain mistakes this for shoulder pain.
2. Metastasis of cancer to the bones of and around the shoulder. Around 30% to 40% of patients who have lung cancer have metastasis to the bones at some point.
3. Pancoast tumor, which is a specific form of cancer that grows in the lungs’ upper part. This rapidly invades nearby tissues. It is characteristic for this shoulder pain to radiate down into the arm as well. With pancoast tumors, there are usually no other lung cancer symptoms such as shortness of breath, persistent coughs, and coughing up blood.
4. Malignant pleural mesothelioma, which is a rare form of cancer caused by asbestos exposure. One study showed that 14% of people with this cancer developed shoulder pain as a first symptom.
The Difference Between Shoulder Pain as a Symptom of Lung Cancer and Other Forms of Shoulder Pain:
It can be very difficult to tell whether or not shoulder pain is caused by lung cancer. It feels exactly the same as arthritis of the shoulder, for instance. However, if you notice pain not linked to the use of the shoulder, pain that happens when you rest, or pain that becomes worse at night, you should have things checked out.
It is also more likely to be linked to lung cancer if you also have other symptoms, including those mentioned earlier and inexplicable weight loss. Interestingly, women and nonsmokers tend to have very different lung cancer symptoms then what men do. In women and nonsmokers, the symptoms are usually vague, including fatigue and shortness of breath with activity.
Treating Lung Cancer Induced Shoulder Pain:
The appropriate treatment for shoulder pain as a result of lung cancer varies depends on what actually caused it. For instance, if you have referred pain, then the focus is likely to be on reducing the size of the tumor so that it no longer presses on the nerve. If you have pancoast tumors, you may be offered surgery in order to remove them, or radiotherapy to make the pain less severe. If it is caused by bone metastasis, radiation therapy is often offered. This will help slow down the spread of the cancer, if effective, and also lessen the symptoms. Often, treatment will be offered to increase your level of comfort.