Random aches are a normal part of getting older. After all, your body is constantly changing, and you may not move as easily as you used to. However, if you’ve noticed increasingly bad shoulder pain lately, it may not be a problem with run-of-the-mill aging; it could be a symptom of lung cancer.
Lung cancer is the third most common cancer in the U.S. and the leading cause of cancer death. It’s notoriously difficult to catch early, especially since many symptoms can be explained away by other health problems. When you think of signs of lung cancer, you probably picture issues like shortness of breath, fatigue, and chest pain.
However, because your lungs are so centrally located, any cancer growths in them could cause other parts of the body to hurt, a phenomenon called referred pain. This can come in the form of a chronic, dull pain or a much sharper and more acute one depending on the tumor. “Shoulder pain associated with early-stage lung cancer may occur from tumor pressure on nerves,” healthcare professional Gail Trauco, RN recently told Best Life. Because your nerves are under increased duress from cancerous cells, the signals to your brain end up getting jumbled, and your mind interprets them as pain in your shoulder rather than in part of your lungs. A rare subset of lung cancer called Pancoast tumors that originate at the top of the lungs and metastasize elsewhere, including your shoulders, could also cause the aches in your upper body.
Of course, just because you’re dealing with shoulder pain doesn’t mean you should immediately assume it’s lung cancer. However, if you start to notice other potential signs of respiratory problems, such as a persistent cough, sudden and unexplained fatigue, or wheezing, it may be time to see a doctor and explain your symptoms. While you may be dealing with an entirely different medical issue, it’s always good to err on the side of caution and speak to someone!