Lung cancer is one of the most common and serious types of cancer, with around 47,000 diagnoses in the UK each year. While there are usually no signs or symptoms in the early stages, the NHS says many people eventually develop symptoms including a persistent cough, persistent breathlessness, unexplained tiredness and weight loss, and an ache or pain when breathing or coughing.

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But the symptoms of lung cancer don’t end there.

According to Cancer Research UK, swelling of the face can signal the disease, and this is caused by a blockage of a main blood vessel – superior vena cava obstruction.

Marie Curie explains: “The superior vena cava (SVC) is a large vein that carries blood from the head, neck and arms back to the heart.

“Tumours can compress or block the SVC, or lead to a clot (thrombus) in the SVC.

“This stops the blood draining back to the heart and causes increased pressure in the head, neck and arms.”

Superior vena cava obstruction occurs in 3 to 8 percent of patients with cancer, according to the charity, and is most common in patients with lung cancer but can also be caused by lymphoma, and metastases from breast, bowel and other cancers.

Signs and symptoms of superior cava obstruction are caused by increased pressure in the head, neck and arms.

Alongside swelling in the face, the following symptoms may also occur:

  • Breathlessness
  • Swollen veins in the neck and chest
  • Swelling of the neck and arms
  • Redness in the face
  • Headache or feeling of fullness in the head, made worse by bending or lying down
  • Changes to vision
  • Dizziness

It’s important to note superior vena cava obstruction is an emergency and requires urgent medical attention.

If you suspect superior vena cava obstruction, Marie Curie advises contacting your GP, hospital acute oncology team or palliative care team specialist nurse or medical team immediately.

It adds: “Make sure that clothing is loose around the neck and arms. Support the patient’s arms on pillows.

“Superior vena cava obstruction can be very frightening and distressing for the patient and their family. Explain what is happening and reassure them that help is coming. Offer the person pain killers if they already have some prescribed.”

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Other symptoms of lung cancer

Other symptoms listed by Cancer Research UK include:

  • A cough that doesn’t go away
  • A change in a cough you have had for a long time
  • Breathlessness
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Ongoing chest infections
  • Coughing up blood
  • A hoarse voice
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Changes in the shape of your fingers and nails called finger clubbing
  • Loss of appetite

In some some cases, lung cancer may spread outside the lungs and the first symptoms may not come from your chest at all.

In this case, the British Lung Foundation says symptoms may include:

  • Back pain
  • Bone pain or fracture
  • Nerve or brain damage – this might affect walking, talking, behaviour or memory
  • Confusion
  • Swallowing difficulties
  • Jaundice – when your skin or eyes become yellow

If you experience any of the symptoms of lung cancer, contact your GP.

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