What Are the Early Symptoms of Lung Cancer?
This article explains symptoms that you may experience as the first signs of lung cancer.
Doctors diagnose 16% of lung cancers in the early stage. It is important to contact your doctor as soon as you notice symptoms of lung cancer.
Early symptoms of lung cancer can include:
- chest pain
- shortness of breath
- loss of appetite
- unexplained weight loss
A cough affects
Spitting up blood affects 15–30% of people. Coughing up spit or phlegm the color of rust may also be a sign of lung cancer.
Learn more about possible causes of coughing up blood.
Shortness of breath
Learn about when to see a doctor for shortness of breath. You can also learn about ways of coping with shortness of breath with lung cancer.
The new onset of wheezing
As with other symptoms of lung cancer, there may be other causes of wheezing. Contact your doctor if you begin wheezing so that you can receive an accurate diagnosis.
Learn more about possible causes of wheezing.
Irritation or injury to the vocal cords can cause hoarseness.
Find out more about what can cause a hoarse voice.
Loss of appetite and weight loss
Contact your doctor if you lose more than 5% of your usual body weight in 6–12 months.
Learn more about what can cause unexpected weight loss.
Fatigue is a
You may experience secondary fatigue as a result of:
- disruptions to your sleep
- emotional distress
- reduced physical activity
Find out when to contact a doctor for fatigue.
Lung cancer may make you more likely to develop an infection, such as bronchitis or pneumonia. An infection
Contact your doctor if you have a persistent or recurring infection.
The main cause of lung cancer is smoking. Smoking accounts for
Early symptoms of lung cancer in people who do not smoke are similar to symptoms of those who do. However, lung cancer may develop more slowly in people who do not smoke.
As the cancer spreads or advances, you may experience other symptoms of lung cancer.
- pain in your bones, such as your back or hips
- weakness or numbness in your arm or leg
- dizziness or problems with balance
- seizure, if cancer spreads to the brain
- jaundice, yellowing of the eyes and skin, if cancer spreads to the liver
- swollen lymph nodes in the neck or above the collarbone
Lung cancer may also cause syndromes. These present as groups of symptoms.
Possible syndromes you may experience with lung cancer include:
- Horner’s syndrome
- superior vena cava syndrome
- paraneoplastic syndromes, such as:
Learn more about symptoms of advanced lung cancer. You can also learn more about paraneoplastic syndromes and their relationship to cancer.
Can I have lung cancer for years without knowing?
People can (and typically do) have lung cancer for years without knowing. It usually takes several years for cancer to develop and grow to a size that causes physical changes.
Symptoms are also often absent in the early stages. Once symptoms do appear, people may also not recognize them as being related to cancer or may ignore them, further delaying diagnosis.
Adithya Cattamanchi, MDAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.
Contact your doctor as soon as you experience symptoms of lung cancer.
Many symptoms of lung cancer
You may also wish to contact your doctor about routine screenings. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force
- smoke or have smoked 20 packs or more of cigarettes a year
- smoke or you quit smoking in the past 15 years
- are between 50—80 years old
If you have symptoms of lung cancer, your doctor may take a full medical history and perform a physical examination. Then they
- imaging tests, such as a CT scan, MRI, and PET scan
- thoracentesis, to analyze fluid from the lungs
- sputum cytology, to analyze mucus coughed up from the lungs
- needle biopsy or bronchoscopy, to remove and analyze tissue samples
Learn more about how doctors test for lung cancer.
Doctors will typically not use the word “cure.” Doctors rarely can guarantee that cancer will not return. However, they may say that you are in remission. This means that symptoms are either reduced or gone.
It is important to contact your doctor as soon as you experience symptoms of lung cancer. You are more likely to enter remission if you receive treatment in the early stage of lung cancer.
Treatments for lung cancer depend on the type of cancer and what stage it is in.
- radiation therapy
- targeted drug therapy
- radiofrequency ablation
- palliative care
Your doctor may also recommend treatment for specific symptoms. These can include:
- breathing exercises for breathlessness
- bronchodilators to open the airway and reduce wheezing
- demulcent syrups and saline solutions
for cough Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source
- dietary changes for loss of appetite and weight loss
- exercise plans to reduce fatigue
for infections Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source
Steps you can take include:
- not smoking, or quitting smoking
- avoiding secondhand smoke
- avoiding exposure to cancer-causing agents and radon
- eating a healthy, balanced diet
You can also contact your doctor for advice.
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You may not experience symptoms of lung cancer when the cancer is in the early stage. However, being aware of common symptoms will help you seek medical advice as soon as possible.
Common symptoms of lung cancer include breathing difficulties, chest pain, wheezing, and cough. Contact your doctor as soon as you experience respiratory symptoms. They will carry out tests to reach a diagnosis and advise you on any necessary treatments.