Disease Information

Signs and Symptoms of Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is by far the number one leading cause of cancer deaths among both men and women. Surprisingly, as many as 20% of those are people have never smoked at all.  According to the American Cancer Society, more people die of lung cancer each year than they do of colon cancer, breast cancer, and prostate cancer combined. Lung cancer can happen to anyone. Whether you’re young or old, a smoker or non-smoker, it’s important to be on the lookout for lung cancer symptoms.

While most lung cancers do not cause symptoms until the cancer has become advanced, that is not the case with everyone. Early symptoms of lung cancer may include a slight cough or shortness of breath that typically becomes more severe as the cancer progresses. Treatment for lung cancer, like most cancers, is more likely to be effective if the cancer is diagnosed early. Because of that we recommend you contact your doctor if you are experiencing any of these lung cancer symptoms:

  • A lingering cough
  • Coughing up blood or coughing up spit or phlegm tainted with blood
  • Hoarseness
  • Weight loss and loss of appetite
  • Chest pain that worsens with deep breathing, coughing, or laughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue and/or weakness
  • New onset of wheezing
  • Recurring (chronic) infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia

Once lung cancer becomes advanced and spreads to other areas of the body, symptoms often change. Some advanced lung cancer symptoms may include:

  • Bone pain
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • Lumps in the neck and/or collarbone region
  • Headache, dizziness, or weakness in the arms or legs

Some lung cancers can cause syndromes, which are groups of very specific symptoms. However, because these syndromes can affect other organs in the body, some doctors may misdiagnose, thinking something other than lung cancer is causing the problem. These syndromes are:

Horner syndrome – a combination of symptoms caused by a disturbance in the nerve pathway that runs from the brain to the face and eye on one side of the body. Typically, Horner syndrome results in drooping or weakness of one eyelid, decreased pupil size, and reduced or absent sweating on the affected side of the face.

Superior vena cava syndrome (SVCS) – a syndrome that occurs when a person’s superior vena cava (the major vein that carries blood from the head and arms back to the heart) has a partial blockage or compression. Common symptoms of SVCS include difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, coughing, and swelling of the face, neck, upper body, and arms.

Paraneoplastic syndromes – rare disorders triggered by substances produced and secreted by the tumor. These hormone-like substances affect distant tissues and organs, even though the cancer itself has not spread to those same areas. Some common paraneoplastic syndromes associated with lung cancer are:

  • SIADH (syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone)
  • Cushing syndrome
  • Hypercalcemia (high blood calcium levels)
  • Excess growth or thickening of certain bones
  • Blood clots
  • Nervous system problems
  • Gynecomastia (excess breast growth in men)

In many cases, most lung cancer symptoms, including the syndromes, are the result of something other than lung cancer. Regardless, if you notice one or more of these signs or symptoms, or anything unusual, it is important to see your doctor immediately so the cause can be found and treated, if needed.