Fingernail Clubbing as a Sign of Lung Cancer—Facebook Post Leads to a Diagnosis

Most people know to schedule an appointment with their doctor ASAP if they feel a strange lump on their breast or neck. But signs of cancer can be less obvious, too—some, like a pimple that doesn't go away, a hoarse voice, or a "foreign body sensation" in your throat, can seem completely random. Another unexpected symptom to add to that list? As per the Mayo Clinic, clubbing in the nails occurs when fingertips swell and cause the nail to curve downward. This could be a sign of oxygen depletion in the blood and an early sign of lung cancer.

Taylor's Story

The link between nail health and cancer is something a woman from the United Kingdom learned firsthand as reported by a story covered by The Daily Record. After posting a photo of her curved nail on Facebook and asking if any of her followers "had seen nails like this," Jean "Jeannie" Williams Taylor‎ was "urged to go to the doctor" to have it looked at more closely.

Although Taylor thought this reaction was "a tad extreme," as she wrote on Facebook, she took their advice. Soon after, she found herself rushed through a series of tests, including blood work, a chest X-ray, a CT scan, a PET scan, an MRI scan, and a lung biopsy.

After what she calls a "grueling" two weeks, Taylor received her diagnosis: cancer in both of her lungs.

What Is Lung Cancer?

Lung cancer is a very common type of cancer and leads the list when causing death in both men and women. According to MedlinePlus, a history of smoking—or inhaling secondhand smoke—a family history of lung cancer, and exposure to certain caustic and dangerous events or materials are looked at as the primary causes of this form of cancer.

This cancer forms in the air passages of the lungs compromising the flow or transfer of oxygen to the body's bloodstream. It can be categorized as either small-cell or the more common non-small cell cancer.

Some of the more typical symptoms of lung cancer can include:

  • Pain in the chest
  • Worsening cough that does not go away—and blood in the coughed-up sputum
  • Wheezing as you breath
  • Hoarseness
  • Loss of Appetite and sudden weight loss
  • Fatigue

Treatments for lung cancer will depend on the type of cancer you have, how aggressively it is spreading, and your overall health. Treatment includes the use of radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and surgery.

Fingernail Clubbing

Although the average person might not necessarily associate clubbing with potential illness, it's a well-known red flag in the medical community. "A doctor who sees someone has clubbing will know that they may have some sort of lung disease, heart disease, or gastrointestinal disease," says Eric Presser, MD, a thoracic surgeon, and member of First California Physician Partners.

In addition to lung cancer, Dr. Presser tells us that clubbing could be an early tip-off for a slew of other health conditions ranging from pulmonary fibrosis to mesothelioma to malabsorption problems such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. Although experts don't know exactly what causes this symptom, one theory is that certain chronic illnesses trigger a change in the curvature of the nail bed when blood vessels dilate in that part of the body.

Still, "people shouldn't freak out if they have clubbing," says Dr. Presser, noting that many cases are benign. The most important thing is to be in tune with your body and schedule a doctor's appointment if you spot something unusual. "If you do notice this change, make sure you talk to your doctor about some of the potential possibilities that you want to rule out," he says.


As for Taylor, she writes that while she had "no idea" clubbed nails could be a sign of lung cancer, she's hoping her post can help raise awareness for this unexpected symptom—and perhaps help someone else who might be in the early stages of lung cancer as well.

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