Back pain and lung cancer

There are a number of causes of back pain that are not related to cancer. But back pain can accompany certain types of cancer including lung cancer.

According to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, about 25 percent of people with lung cancer experience back pain. In fact, back pain is frequently the first lung cancer symptom that people notice prior to diagnosis.

The pain in your back might be a symptom of the lung cancer or spread of the disease.

Back pain may also arise as a side effect of cancer treatment.

If you are concerned that your back pain could be a symptom of lung cancer, consider whether you have other common symptoms of lung cancer such as:

Understanding the risk factors for lung cancer can help determine if the pain in your back could be an indication of lung cancer. Your chances of getting lung cancer increase with certain behaviors and exposures:

Do you smoke tobacco products?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identifies cigarette smoking as the top risk factor. Smoking is linked to 80 to 90 percent of lung cancers.

Do you inhale secondhand smoke?

According to the CDC every year secondhand smoke results in more than 7,300 lung cancer deaths of nonsmokers in the U.S.

Have you been exposed to radon?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identifies radon as the second leading cause of lung cancer. It result in about 21,000 cases of lung cancer each year.

Have you been exposed to known carcinogens?

Exposure to substances such as asbestos, arsenic, chromium, and diesel exhaust can result in lung cancer.

If you have persistent symptoms, including pain in your back that concerns you, make an appointment with your doctor.

If your doctor thinks that lung cancer might be the cause of your symptoms, they will typically diagnose using a physical exam, imaging, and lab tests.

If they discover lung cancer, the treatment will depend on the type, stage, and how far it has advanced. Treatment options include:

For any cancer, early detection and diagnosis improves the chances for a cure. Lung cancer, however, usually has few symptoms that are recognized during its early stages.

Early stage lung cancer is often identified while a doctor is checking something else, such as administering a chest X-ray for a rib fracture.

One of the ways to catch early stage lung cancer is by proactive screening if you are in a high risk group for getting the disease.

For example, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that people ages 55 to 80 with a history of smoking — have a 30-pack-a-year smoking history and currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years — get an annual screening with low-dose computed tomography (LDCT).

Specific actions you can take to reduce your risk of getting lung cancer include:

  • don’t smoke or stop smoking
  • avoid secondhand smoke
  • test your home for radon (remediate if radon is discovered)
  • avoid carcinogens at work (wear a face mask for protection)
  • eat a balanced diet that features fruits and vegetables
  • exercise regularly

Make an appointment with your doctor if you have back pain that seems like pain associated with lung cancer. Early detection and diagnosis of lung cancer will improve your chances of recovery.