Lung cancer: Puffy face among 'common signs' that people ignore

Though many associate a bloody cough with the onset of lung cancer, many patients report the onset of facial symptoms early on in their cancer diagnosis

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Lung cancer: Dr Amir describes the symptoms

Many people who develop lung cancer will miss some of the disease’s earliest warning signs, instead first noticing symptoms with the development of a bloody cough. However, as the cancer develops it has multiple effects which present in seemingly unrelated parts of the body.

One such area is the face, where puffiness and swelling are common complaints for people in the early stages of lung cancer. As this could be symptomatic of many illnesses, from a bacterial infection to an allergic reaction, being aware of what else to keep an eye out for is important.

Other facial symptoms include a red-hot flush on your cheeks and potentially even wheezing. While this might seem strange, the cancerous development of tumours in the lungs can put pressure on nearby organs and blood vessels.

Often, this can cause a tumour to place additional pressure on the superior vena cava, the body’s main vein which supplies blood to the head and brain. Research estimates that 95 per cent of such blockages are as a result of lung cancer or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Tumours in the lungs can apply pressure to a major blood vessel, it’s important you speak to your doctor if your face begins to swell.


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Studies indicate that the other related symptoms to a puffy and flushed face are: prominent or distended veins in the neck and chest, shortness of breath, coughing, and swollen arms. If you experience these symptoms together you should speak to your GP about getting a test.

Healthcare specialists Reynolds Cancer Support House say these symptoms are the ones lung cancer patients are “most likely to ignore.

“Some patients with lung cancer report noticing puffiness, swelling, or redness in the face.

“The explanation for this is that small cell lung tumours commonly block blood vessels in the chest, preventing blood from flowing freely from the head and face.”

A red and puffy face is one of the key symptoms of lung cancer that people ignore


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In some cases, if you are experiencing a swollen and flushed face, it can also be a sign of something known as a carcinoid tumour. These cancers grow in our bodies neuroendocrine cells, the tiny biological messenger units in our bodies that release and receive hormones to help the body function.

When these cells become infected with cancer, the disruption to our bodies’ functioning can also cause, hot facial flushing, puffiness, and diarrhoea.

The other common signs of lung cancer to be aware of are:

  • Facial swelling
  • Feeling fluid around the lungs
  • Frequent infections
  • Blood clots
  • High calcium levels
  • Problems with the nervous system, such as spinal cord compression and neuropathy
  • Blockages in the airways or food pipe
  • Tumors in other parts of the body, due to metastasis

Cancer Research UK says that the main risk factors and causes of lung cancer are: smoking tobacco, exposure to chemicals, air pollution, previous lung disease, exposure to radon gas, and a family history of lung cancer.

They say that the route to a diagnosis begins: “You usually start by seeing your GP. They will ask you about your general health and symptoms and will also examine you.

“This might include listening to your breathing and seeing how much air you breathe in and out. Your doctor will then decide whether to do tests or refer you to a specialist.”

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