Finger Clubbing and Lung Cancer: Are Nail Changes an Early Sign of Cancer? | MyLungCancerTeam

Connect with others who understand.

sign up Log in
Resources
About MyLungCancerTeam
Powered By

Finger Clubbing and Lung Cancer: Are Nail Changes an Early Sign of Cancer?

Medically reviewed by Leonora Valdez, M.D.
Updated on April 15, 2024

Finger clubbing, which includes swelling of the fingertips and changes to the appearance of fingernails, is a common symptom of lung cancer. Around 80 percent of people with finger clubbing have lung cancer. Sometimes called “clubbed fingers” or “digital clubbing,” finger clubbing may run in families as a harmless trait. It may also be an indication of heart, liver, or other lung disorders.

Finger clubbing is generally not one of the early symptoms of lung cancer, though for some people, it may be among the first noticeable ones. Symptoms of lung cancer usually show up only in later stages as the condition progresses. For this reason, it’s important to talk to your health care provider right away if you do notice potential early signs and symptoms of lung cancer.

This article will cover what finger clubbing looks like, its causes, and when to see your health care provider.

What Does Finger Clubbing Look Like?

Finger clubbing is a common symptom of lung cancer. It’s characterized by bulging fingertips and fingernails that angle at the base and curve downward around the fingertips. (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 NZ/DermNet)

People with finger clubbing may have:

  • Bulging fingertips
  • Soft nail beds with fingernails that don’t look firmly attached
  • Fingernails that angle sharply at the cuticle (base of the fingernail)
  • Fingernails that curve downward around the fingertips

Finger clubbing usually develops slowly, so you may not initially notice it’s happening. If you do see anything early on, it may be reddening and softening of the nail bed (the soft skin underneath your nails). If you touch your nails, they might also feel spongy.

Eventually, your nails will have a downward curve and a shiny appearance. You can tell apart normally curved nails vs. clubbed nails because clubbed nails have a very noticeable spoon-shaped curve at the ends of the fingers. You might also notice an enlargement of your fingertips.

What Causes Finger Clubbing?

The most common cause of clubbing is lung cancer. However, like most symptoms of lung cancer, clubbed fingers may not show up in the early stages of the disease. Rather, they’ll develop once the condition has progressed into the later stages.

Finger clubbing may be linked to low oxygen, which can occur in lung cancer and other conditions. In lung cancer, finger clubbing is thought to be associated with excessive amounts of growth factors that encourage the growth of blood vessels.

Additionally, some lung cancer treatments and comorbidities (other health conditions you may have at the same time) can also contribute to nail or finger changes.

Lung Cancer Treatments and Finger Clubbing

Some lung cancer treatments may cause nail or finger changes. Some of these may look similar to finger clubbing, but they’re not symptoms of finger clubbing.

The following medications used to treat lung cancer can cause nail changes and swelling of your fingertips:

  • Afatinib (Gilotrif)
  • Albumin-bound paclitaxel (Abraxane)
  • Cisplatin
  • Docetaxel (Taxotere)
  • Doxorubicin
  • Erlotinib
  • Gemcitabine (Gemzar)
  • Osimertinib (Tagrisso)
  • Paclitaxel

Read more about specific medications and side effects in this list of treatments for lung cancer.

Lung Cancer Comorbidities and Finger Clubbing

Some comorbidities of lung cancer are linked to clubbed fingers, including:

  • Chronic lung infections, such as bronchiectasis or cystic fibrosis
  • Other infections, such as HIV and hepatitis B or C
  • Liver disease, such as cirrhosis of the liver
  • Other cancers, such as liver cancer or Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of blood cancer

Other nail changes that can occur due to cancer or cancer treatments include:

  • Thin cracks, tears, or deep cuts in the nail or fingertip
  • Lines or ridges on the nail
  • Discoloration or swelling around the nail
  • Loss of a nail
  • Darkening near the cuticle (at the base of the nail) or the whole nail
  • Bleeding under the nail, shown by red lines
  • Lifting of the nail from the nail bed

Although less common, skin symptoms can also be a sign of lung cancer or a result of skin cancer treatment, such as rash after radiation or chemotherapy.

Finger or Thumb Test

Because clubbed fingers can take many years to develop, it may be hard to notice at first. Doing a finger or thumb test for lung cancer can help you spot changes. You can check for the Schamroth sign to see if your fingers have become clubbed.

Performing the Schamroth sign entails placing fingernails from similar fingers together. The nails will normally form a diamond-shaped window, as seen in this image. If your fingertips angle away from one another, you may have finger clubbing. (CC BY 3.0/Rollcloud)


Checking for the Schamroth sign entails placing the nails of both index fingers together up to the last joint as if you’re forming the top of a heart shape. You should be able to see a diamond-shaped window of space form between your nails and the joints closest to your fingertips. If you don’t see this space, then you might have finger clubbing.

Is There Treatment for Nail Clubbing?

Clubbing of the fingers can be a temporary or long-term symptom depending on what’s causing it. If it’s caused by a health condition, treating the condition may reverse the finger clubbing. If finger clubbing is the result of a chronic condition or cancer, clubbing may be long term or permanent.

As such, nail clubbing due to lung cancer likely won’t go away. Nail clubbing, on its own, doesn’t need to be treated. Instead, your doctor will focus on treating the cancer or other underlying condition causing nail clubbing.

What Does Finger Clubbing Tell Your Health Care Provider?

Clubbed fingers typically don’t require treatment, but it’s a good idea to let your health care provider know if you develop this symptom because clubbed fingers can be connected to serious medical conditions.

Changes you should tell your health provider about include a downward curve in your fingernails and swelling in your fingertips. After examining your fingers, your doctor may ask about other symptoms. They also may order some blood and lab tests to diagnose or rule out health conditions that may be causing clubbed fingers.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyLungCancerTeam is the social network for people with lung cancer and their loved ones. On MyLungCancerTeam, more than 12,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with lung cancer.

Do you have clubbed fingers related to lung cancer? Did they occur along with other lung cancer symptoms like chest pain or shortness of breath? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

    Updated on April 15, 2024
    All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.

    We'd love to hear from you! Please share your name and email to post and read comments.

    You'll also get the latest articles directly to your inbox.

    This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
    Leonora Valdez, M.D. received her medical degree from the Autonomous University of Guadalajara before pursuing a fellowship in internal medicine and subsequently in medical oncology at the National Cancer Institute. Learn more about her here.
    Emily Brown is a freelance writer and editor, specializing in health communication and public health. Learn more about her here.
    Ross Phan, PharmD is a MyHealthTeam writer with a doctorate in Pharmacy. She is also a founder of Off Script, a pharmacy consulting business. Learn more about her here.

    Related Articles

    Lung cancer can affect the body in a variety of ways. Some symptoms of lung cancer are what you’d...

    Face Swelling and Lung Cancer: Causes and Tips for Management

    Lung cancer can affect the body in a variety of ways. Some symptoms of lung cancer are what you’d...
    You likely know that quitting smoking has a positive impact on your overall health. But how does ...

    What’s Your Risk of Lung Cancer After Quitting Smoking?

    You likely know that quitting smoking has a positive impact on your overall health. But how does ...
    Yellow nail syndrome (YNS) is a rare disease that can cause nail changes and swelling, along with...

    Yellow Nail Syndrome and Lung Cancer: What’s the Connection?

    Yellow nail syndrome (YNS) is a rare disease that can cause nail changes and swelling, along with...
    Coughing up phlegm with brown spots can be worrisome, especially for people living with lung canc...

    Lung Cancer and Coughing Up Phlegm With Brown Spots: What It Means

    Coughing up phlegm with brown spots can be worrisome, especially for people living with lung canc...
    Lung cancer can affect the body in many ways. It can cause symptoms you might have never associat...

    Lung Cancer and Swelling in the Legs and Feet: Causes and Tips for Care

    Lung cancer can affect the body in many ways. It can cause symptoms you might have never associat...
    According to cancer researchers, approximately 60 percent of all people diagnosed with lung cance...

    Lung Cancer and Weight Loss: What You Should Know

    According to cancer researchers, approximately 60 percent of all people diagnosed with lung cance...

    Recent Articles

    Like all cancers, lung cancer is caused by mutations, or genetic changes, in DNA. Mutations in ge...

    5 Lung Cancer Mutations and Treatments That Target Them

    Like all cancers, lung cancer is caused by mutations, or genetic changes, in DNA. Mutations in ge...
    Some medical procedures are used only in certain cases. For people with severe lung damage, a lun...

    Lung Transplant for Lung Cancer: Is It an Option?

    Some medical procedures are used only in certain cases. For people with severe lung damage, a lun...
    Lung cancer is usually found in older adults, but did you know it can also occur in children? Alt...

    Lung Cancer in Children: 7 Facts To Know

    Lung cancer is usually found in older adults, but did you know it can also occur in children? Alt...
    If your doctor runs tests to look at your lungs, they may see something unexpected. Unusual subst...

    What Are Lung Infiltrates? Causes and Risk for Lung Cancer

    If your doctor runs tests to look at your lungs, they may see something unexpected. Unusual subst...
    When a person living with lung cancer can’t undergo surgery for any reason, their condition is of...

    Inoperable Lung Cancer: What To Expect

    When a person living with lung cancer can’t undergo surgery for any reason, their condition is of...
    Military service can bring obvious dangers, but many veterans may face a more unexpected threat: ...

    Military Veterans and Lung Cancer: 6 Facts To Know

    Military service can bring obvious dangers, but many veterans may face a more unexpected threat: ...
    MyLungCancerTeam My lung cancer Team

    Thank you for subscribing!

    Become a member to get even more:

    sign up for free

    close