Lung Cancer Complications

Written by the Healthline Editorial Team | Published on October 2, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Tricia Kinman on October 2, 2014

Lung Cancer Complications

Complications can arise as lung cancer progresses. Often they occur when the cancer spreads to other areas of the body. Sometimes the complications are caused by treatments.

Effects on the Lungs

The spread of lung cancer can cause blockages in the major airways or the buildup of fluid around the lungs (pleural effusion). This may result in shortness of breath (dyspnea). Over time, the lack of oxygen can cause heart problems like heart failure. A build up of fluid in the lungs over time can lead to pneumonia. This can cause chest pain, fever, and eventually lead to hospitalization.

People with lung cancer may experience hemoptysis, coughing up blood. This is due to bleeding in the airways. Treatments are available to help control the type of bleeding.


Neuropathy is a disorder that affects the nerves, mainly of the hands and feet. The condition can be caused by lung cancer that grows near the nerves in the arm or shoulder. It can also be caused by cancer treatments. When the cancer or treatment damages these nerves, it causes tingling, numbness, weakness, and pain in the affected areas. Neuropathy may often be controlled with medication.

If cancer in the lungs grows into the neck or face, it can affect nerves in this area. This can cause Horner syndrome, a condition in which the eye on one side of the face has a droopy eyelid (ptosis), there may be constriction of the pupil of the affected eye, and a lack of sweating of the affected side of the face.

Tumors in the chest can also affect the nerves around the voice box, causing hoarseness and voice changes. Neuropathy may often be controlled with medication.


Pain usually occurs in the chest area or other parts of the body where lung cancer has spread. This usually happens in advanced stages of the disease and can be managed with medication and radiation.

Other Complications

Lung cancer can cause problems by affecting other body organs such as the heart and esophagus. If tumors grow near the heart or major vessels, they can compress or block the veins and arteries. This can cause swelling in the chest, neck, and face. This can also lead to vision problems, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue. Tumors near the heart can also upset the heart’s normal rhythm or cause a buildup of fluid around the heart.

If the lung cancer grows around the esophagus you may have trouble swallowing or experience more pain when food passes through the esophagus on the way to the stomach.

Spread of Cancer (Metastasis)

Lung cancer can spread to other parts of the body. If it spreads to the brain, liver, bones, and glands, it can cause significant side effects. Tumors also secrete hormones and other chemicals that affect nerves and muscles, sometimes in distant places from the cancer. These diseases or symptoms are called paraneoplastic syndromes. Treatments are available to relieve the pain, nausea, and headaches associated with the spread of tumors.

Long-Term Outlook

Complications from lung cancer can occur. It’s important to know the symptoms and signs of these complications so you can catch and treat them early, if necessary.

The survival rate of people with lung cancer depends on the stage of the disease. People whose lung cancer is caught in the early stages have a much better chance of recovery. Most cases of lung cancer require very aggressive treatment because symptoms usually don’t occur until the advanced stages of the disease.

If you’ve been diagnosed with lung cancer, talk to your doctor to get a better idea of your outlook.

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