Is Muscle Weakness a Symptom of Lung Cancer?

Signs of lung cancer-related muscle weakness occur when cancer interrupts the brain’s ability to communicate signals to certain muscles, resulting in a chemical imbalance. When a mesothelioma or lung cancer patient begins experiencing weakness, muscles can feel heavy or tight. In some cases, a cancer patient may experience sudden weakness in their whole body. Anyone experiencing a sudden numbness or weakness should call 911.

Patients with muscle weakness may experience flu-like symptoms, pain, or loss of muscle function. Muscle weakness may appear as one of the first symptoms of lung cancer. Initial mesothelioma symptoms may also include muscle weakness. Many cancer patients find walking and lifting heavy things difficult when afflicted by muscle weakness.

Muscle weakness occurs in lung cancer patients for various reasons, including age, the spread of cancer, or health conditions such as diabetes. A lack of protein and regular exercise can worsen muscle weakness. Patients in later stages typically begin experiencing severe muscle weakness. If tumors spread to the bones, a person can experience symptoms in other areas of the body, including sudden weakness in the legs.

Large-cell carcinoma, non-small cell lung cancer, or mesothelioma patients may find muscle weakness difficult to prevent. Patients often experience breathing difficulties due to the location of cancer tumors being on or near the lungs. Cancer itself can cause muscle pain or spasms. Oxygen provides important nutrients to muscles via red blood cells, stimulating energy and strength. As cancer patients experience breathing difficulties, a lack of oxygen supply to the muscles causes fatigue and weakness.

Other Causes of Muscle Weakness?

A common cause of muscle weakness in lung cancer patients is tumors. Cancer tumors can cause muscle inflammation, medically referred to as myositis. When the immune system is constantly fighting cancer tumors, the body’s response leads to muscle inflammation. A patient with myositis may experience weakness, swelling, and pain.

Muscle weakness or fatigue can occur in cancer patients for many reasons, including:

  • Advanced disease
  • Adenocarcinoma of the lung
  • Cancer treatments
  • Chronic Dry cough
  • COVID-19-related symptoms
  • Hormonal imbalance
  • Low red blood cell counts (anemia)
  • Reduced muscle mass or muscle function
  • Reduced quantity and quality of muscle
  • Skeletal muscle metastases
  • Spread of cancer to the brain
  • Surgery to remove part of the lung (lobectomy)
  • Tumor cells disrupting normal bone remodeling

Stress, inactivity, and eating unhealthy are common causes of muscle loss and muscle fatigue in anyone, including cancer patients. Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy often experience muscle weakness from both stress and as a side effect of treatment. Inactivity and healthy eating among anyone can lead to muscle loss. Cancer patients, however, do not always have the option to be active or eat a strict diet, making muscle weakness difficult to prevent.

Treatment For Lung Cancer-Related Muscle Weakness

Although muscle weakness cannot be completely eradicated with a single medication or prescription, the associated symptoms can be managed through various treatments. Doctors often recommend physical therapy to lung cancer patients as a first-line treatment for muscle weakness. Physical therapy exercises can increase strength and mobility. The physical therapy strengthening exercises eventually reduce pain, but each patient is different.

Eating a balanced diet can help patients manage muscle weakness and muscle pain. While diet and exercise alone are not enough to prevent weakness, researchers believe eating anti-inflammatory foods can help reduce pain and weakness. Foods such as salmon, tuna, olive oil, avocado, and berries contain omega-3 fatty acids and are associated with decreased inflammation.

Managing Muscle Weakness and Lung Cancer Fatigue

Regular exercise helps cancer patients feel less fatigue. Patients should talk to their doctor before performing any rigorous exercises or seek out a trainer who works with cancer patients. Using muscles on a regular basis can assist in reducing muscle weakness, and inactivity can further weaken the muscles. Cancer patients can benefit from light exercises several times a week.

Patients who smoke should quit. As one of the most common causes of lung cancer, smoking causes various types of issues. Lung cancer patients who smoke can experience chest pain, trouble breathing, muscle weakness, and fatigue.

Other ways to manage muscle fatigue:

  • Avoid caffeine
  • Get at least 8 hours of sleep each night
  • Avoid exercising before bed
  • Prioritize breaks when completing tasks
  • Avoid naps longer than 30 minutes
  • Get regular massages

Some over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, including ibuprofen, naproxen, or acetaminophen, can reduce pain. Doctors can prescribe medications, including muscle relaxants, steroid medicines, antibiotics, or antidepressants.