Which respiratory system findings are characteristic of non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)?

Updated: Jul 15, 2021
  • Author: Winston W Tan, MD, FACP; Chief Editor: Nagla Abdel Karim, MD, PhD  more...
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Findings are variable and depend on tumor location and spread. Centrally located obstructing tumors can cause collapse of the entire lung with an absence of breath sounds on the side of the lesion. Peripheral lesions can cause individual segments or lobes to collapse, leading to findings of dullness to percussion and/or decreased breath sounds.

Pleural effusions give rise to characteristic findings of dullness and decreased breath sounds, depending on the size.

Respiratory insufficiency is signaled by dyspnea and increased work of breathing, retractions, orthopnea, and cyanosis. Upper airway obstruction is manifested by stridor and wheezing. Lower airway obstruction is manifested by asymmetric breath sounds, pleural effusion, pneumothorax, infiltrate, and post obstructive processes.

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