What are the symptoms of lung cancer?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

The symptoms of lung cancer can include a cough that will not go away, traces of blood in coughed up fluid, pain in the chest, tiredness, weakness and weight loss. In addition, people with a continuously present cough (i.e. smoker's cough) might experience changes in their cough.

Lung cancer is defined as a rapid, abnormal cell growth in the lungs and bronchial tubes, and is the leading cause of death from cancer. Close to 100,000 women and 114,000 men were estimated to have been diagnosed with it. So we urge you to be vigilant about any symptoms that pop up. If you've been suffering from a chronic cough, wheezing or other breathing difficulties, you should get yourself checked out. If you're experiencing increased mucus production (ick), you should get yourself checked out. And while these symptoms can often be confused for side effects of the common cold, more serious symptoms include the coughing up of blood, chest pains and recurrent pneumonia or bronchitis. In some cases, someone with lung cancer will also experience persistent hoarseness, difficulty swallowing and back pain.

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Dr. Steven V. Gurland, MD

We usually see pulmonary symptoms as the presenting complaint of a patient with lung cancer. Cough, infection and bleeding are seen first. With the spread of the disease we see weakness, swelling, bone pain and, at times, neurologic symptoms.

Symptoms of lung cancer include coughing, chest pain or trouble breathing. A cough caused by lung cancer might be a new cough that won’t go away or it might be a change to the way an old cough sounds or feels. Blood may be coughed up if the cancer has caused damage to the lungs.

A person with lung cancer may get an infection, like bronchitis or pneumonia, that doesn’t get better even after antibiotics. The person may get tired easily, lose his or her appetite, and his or her voice can change.

Lung cancer can cause a number of symptoms, including:

  • nagging cough
  • chest, shoulder or back pain, which feels like a constant ache and may or may not be related to coughing
  • shortness of breath
  • fatigue and weakness
  • weight loss
  • repeated episodes of pneumonia or bronchitis
  • coughing up blood
  • hoarseness (from left-sided tumors if the nerve that controls the left vocal cord becomes injured by the tumor)
  • swelling of the neck, face and arms (from a right-sided tumor pressing on the main vein that drains the upper body)
  • symptoms related to a cancer spread (metastasis), such as headache, backache or weakness

Other symptoms may occur from a hormonal or immune response of the body due to the presence of the cancer. This is called paraneoplastic syndrome. Examples include hormone imbalances, nervous system complications and kidney problems. The symptoms can occur regardless of the location of the tumor or its spread. Sometimes symptoms occur before cancer is diagnosed and leads to a search for cancer.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.