If You Hear This When You Speak, Get Your Lungs Checked

This vocal change can sometimes be a sign of lung cancer.

Lung cancer is considered the deadliest cancer in America, resulting in over 130,000 deaths each year. While those who smoke are at increased risk, anyone can develop the condition despite having no known risk factors for the disease. Early diagnosis and prompt treatment—both of which can hinge on recognizing lung cancer—are a patient's best chance at a positive prognosis. This is why it's so important to know the signs and symptoms of lung cancer. Read on to find out which symptom is something you may hear when you speak, and what else could be to blame once cancer has been ruled out.

RELATED: If You Feel This in Your Throat, Get Checked for Cancer.

If your voice sounds hoarse when you speak, get your lungs checked.

Caring ER doctor uses a stethoscope to listen to a senior male patient's lungs.

Most of the tell-tale symptoms of lung cancer are respiratory in nature. For exactly this reason, patients often disregard one little-known symptom that doesn't fit the standard profile: a persistently hoarse voice. "Hoarseness is a less-known symptom of lung cancer," explains the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation. "If you are experiencing longer episodes of hoarseness, you should contact your GP practice," the organization's experts write.

A hoarse voice resulting from lung cancer may present in a variety of different ways, so it's important to look out for anything that deviates from your own sense of normalcy. You may notice that your voice sounds "raspy, husky, strained, breathy, weak, inconsistent" or "tired," the foundation says.

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There could be other benign causes for your hoarse voice.

Female doctor check throat for elder patient carefully

Several conditions other than lung cancer can cause a hoarse voice. Examples include laryngitis, swelling of the voice box, acid reflux, and a build up of soft tissue on the vocal cords from smoking, says the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation. Environmental factors such as humidity and air pollution can also increase your likelihood of developing a hoarse voice. In some cases, laryngeal cancer—which directly affects the cells lining the voice box—can also cause hoarseness.

Experts say that if your hoarse voice is caused by "irritation or injury to the vocal cords," the problem should resolve on its own within a relatively short period of time.

Here's why lung cancer patients may experience a hoarse voice.

man touching his neck in pain
RgStudio / iStock

It's easy to imagine how cancer of the larynx could cause a hoarse voice, but the connection between lung cancer and hoarseness is perhaps less obvious.

According to Health Union, lung cancer patients may experience hoarseness as resulting from paralysis or weakness in the laryngeal nerve. When this occurs, it is known as laryngeal nerve palsy. "The recurrent laryngeal nerve controls the action of the larynx and is split into a left and right nerve," their experts explain. "The recurrent laryngeal nerve has an indirect route through the body, with the left passing through the chest cavity close to the left lung. Tumors in the left lung can press on the nerve, causing hoarseness, or recurrent laryngeal nerve palsy. Although less common, right lung tumors can also cause recurrent laryngeal nerve palsy."

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Look out for these other symptoms of lung cancer.

woman coughing into her arm while sitting on the couch

If you notice hoarseness in your voice that does not resolve on its own, it's important to speak with your doctor about your concerns. Additionally, it's useful to be aware of the other symptoms of lung cancer, which may help to know if there's a deeper problem.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these symptoms can include a persistent cough that becomes worse over time, a cough that produces blood or rust-colored phlegm, chest pain, shortness of breath, wheezing, fatigue, and weight loss with no known cause. "Other changes that can sometimes occur with lung cancer may include repeated bouts of pneumonia and swollen or enlarged lymph nodes (glands) inside the chest in the area between the lungs," the CDC writes.

Speak with your doctor today to rule out lung cancer if you notice these symptoms.

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Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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