What are the syndromes associated with lung cancer?

Some lung cancers can cause a group of symptoms called syndromes. Most of these symptoms are likely to be caused by something other than lung cancer but should be checked by a doctor. The syndromes include:

Horner syndrome: Cancers in the top part of the lungs may damage the nerve that passes from the upper chest into the neck, causing:
  • Severe shoulder pain
  • Drooping or weakness of the eyelid and a smaller pupil in the same eye
  • Reduced or absent sweating on the same side of the face
Superior vena cava syndrome: The superior vena cava is a large vein that carries blood from the head and arms back to the heart. It passes alongside the upper part of the right lung and the lymph nodes inside the chest. Tumors in this area may push on the superior vena cava, causing the blood to back up in the veins. The result can be swelling in the face, neck, arms, and upper chest, and headaches, dizziness, and a change in mental function if it affects the brain.

Paraneoplastic syndromes: Some lung cancers make hormone-like substances that enter the bloodstream and cause problems with organs and tissues even though the cancer has not spread to those areas. For instance, squamous cell carcinoma can make abnormal levels of parathyroid-like hormone (PTH), leading to elevated calcium levels. Small cell lung cancer can elaborate abnormal amounts of antidiuretic hormone (ADH), which can cause the sodium level to drop. These paraneoplastic syndromes are sometimes the first symptoms of lung cancer.

Carcinoid syndrome: Rarely, lung carcinoid tumors release enough hormone-like substances into the bloodstream to cause symptoms. Stress, heavy exercise, and drinking alcohol can bring on these symptoms or make them worse. Symptoms include:
  • Facial flushing
  • Severe diarrhea
  • Wheezing
  • Rapid heartbeat
Cushing syndrome: In rare cases, lung carcinoid tumors may produce something called ACTH. This substance causes the adrenal glands to make too much cortisol and other hormones, causing weight gain, weakness, high blood sugar (or even diabetes), and increased body and facial hair. This can be seen with small cell lung cancer.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.