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Understanding shoulder blade pain and NSCLC

A woman grasping her arm to indicate shoulder pain

When you’re diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), you might find yourself with new instances of pain and discomfort throughout your body that you haven’t experienced before. While some of these symptoms might qualify as common side effects of NSCLC, there are additional, less common symptoms that can often occur, too. 

One of those symptoms to look for is shoulder pain

Why might I have shoulder pain?

Some types of lung cancer, including NSCLC, can cause pain in your shoulder. In this case, while the pain might start in your chest at the location of your tumor, it can radiate or “spread” to other areas of your body, including your shoulder and arm, as the tumor grows. Additionally, shoulder pain can occur if your cancer has spread to your bones and lymph nodes, causing a host of other possible symptoms including coughing blood, fluid around your lungs and weight loss.If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, call your doctor immediately. 

How does shoulder pain feel?

It’s possible that your shoulder pain is much more uncomfortable when you’re lying down or in a prone position trying to rest. The pain might feel like arthritis but also could create a tingling that radiates down your arm to your hands, causing numbness in your fingers on that side. 

Another source of sharp shoulder pain is a Pancoast tumor, a rare form of NSCLC occurring in approximately three to five percent of lung cancer patients. In this case, the tumor occurs at the top section of the lungs, causing it to possibly hit the nerves around the shoulder blades and cause pain. Your doctor should explain this condition to you upon diagnosis. 

Treating your shoulder pain

Don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor about your pain levels. Depending on your treatment therapy, they might suggest taking a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug like ibuprofen. You may also find a need to keep your shoulder elevated to reduce any pain. 

If you would like to talk more about shoulder pain or any other side effects you can connect with an Outcomes4Me oncology nurse practitioner at no charge through the Outcomes4Me app, using the “Ask Outcomes4Me” button.


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