Lung cancer: Finger clubbing could be an early risk indication – what is it?

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The most common symptoms of lung cancer include a cough that doesn’t go away, coughing up blood, chest pain, loss of appetite, unexplained weight loss, shortness of breath and feeling tired or weak. There is a lesser-known early warning sign found in your fingers.

Amy Hirst, Cancer Research UK’s Health Information Officer, explained: “Finger clubbing’ is a less common symptom of certain types of lung cancer, but it is also a sign of many different conditions.

“Finger clubbing is when there are changes in the shape of the finger or fingernails and they start to look swollen.

“If you think you have finger clubbing or have noticed any other unusual changes to a nail or another part of your body, tell your doctor.”

Cancer Research UK breaks finger clubbing down into three specific changes.

These include:

The base of the nail (nail bed) becomes soft and the skin next to the nail bed becomes shiny

The nails then curve more than normal when looked at from the side (this is called Scarmouth’s sign)

The ends of the fingers may then get larger (when they are called drumstick fingers)

According to the charity, clubbing is thought to be caused by fluid collecting in the soft tissues at the ends of the fingers.

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There are also less obvious signs of lung cancer, such as a subtle change in the base of your nail.

According to Cancer Research UK, if the base of the nail (nail bed) becomes soft and the skin next to the nail bed becomes shiny, it could signal the first stage of finger clubbing.

Finger clubbing means specific changes in the shape of your fingers and fingernails – it is also called digital clubbing or hippocratic fingers.

What causes lung cancer?

It’s well documented by medical professionals that smoking cigarettes is the biggest risk factor for lung cancer.

Smoking accounts for more than 70 percent of cases, as tobacco contains more than 60 different substances known to be carcinogenic (cancer-producing).

For those who don’t smoke, frequent exposure to other people’s tobacco smoke can also increase your risk of developing lung cancer.

Symptoms such as breathlessness and/or a persistent cough needs to be checked out by a GP.

Your healthcare professional is likely to discuss your general health and symptoms, followed by an examination with a spirometer.

A spirometer measures how much air you breathe in and out. And you may be asked to go for a blood test to rule out other health issues.

An X-ray of the chest is usually the first test to diagnose lung cancer, as most lung tumours appear on X-rays as a white-grey mass.

However, X-rays can’t distinguish between lung cancer and a lung abscess (a collection of pus in the lungs).

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