You may already know that lung cancer can cause back pain, but just how often or common is this?

After all, back pain is one of the leading reasons for visits to primary care physicians and is America’s No. 1 nonfatal health problem.

“Lung cancer may not produce any noticeable symptoms in the early stages, and many people are not diagnosed until the disease has advanced,” says Ioannis Psallidas, MD, PhD, Honorary Consultant Respiratory Physician, Oxford Centre for Respiratory Medicine, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, who has a focus in thoracic oncology.

“When we think about back pain, usually the last thing that comes to mind is cancer,” continues Dr. Psallidas.

“Linking the back to the lungs — it might be an unusual association. However, it is not uncommon for people to experience back pain with lung cancer.”

How Lung Cancer Can Cause Back Pain

Dr. Psallidas explains, “Bone is a common site of metastasis in lung cancer. It is reported that approximately 15–30% of patients with lung cancer will have bone metastases1.

“Evidence shows that approximately 50% of lung cancer patients with bone metastasis have a spread of cancer cells to the spine2. Back pain could also be the first symptom that patients with lung cancer ever experience.”

The back pain from lung cancer will not respond to conservative treatments that are prescribed for musculoskeletal back pain, such as exercises, stretching, yoga, heating pads, hot water massages and deep tissue massage.

It will not get better with rest or over time, and is not triggered by body position or physical activity.

Dr. Psallidas is the main author of many peer-reviewed publications and book chapters in pleural disease and lung cancer. 
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.  
Top image: shayne_ch13
1. Roodman GD. Mechanisms of bone metastasis. N Engl J Med 2004;350:1655–64. 10.1056/NEJMra030831. Can Cancer Cause Middle Back Pain?
2. Michael Kuchuk, Christina L. Addison, Mark Clemons, Iryna Kuchuk, and Paul Wheatley-Pricea. Incidence and consequences of bone metastases in lung cancer patients. J Bone Oncol. 2013 Feb; 2(1): 22–29. How common is it