Lung cancer may not cause any symptoms, especially in the early stages of disease.
Therefore, it may first be detected on X-raysA type of radiation used to diagnose diseases by making pictures of the inside of the body, CT scansA procedure that uses a computer linked to an X-ray machine to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, or other kinds of tests being done to check on another condition.
The following signs and symptoms of non-small cell and small cell lung cancer may also be caused by many other conditions and are not specific to lung cancer. Talk to your doctor if you have any of the following:1,2,3
How can lung cancer affect breathing?
The tumor can block off an airway and interfere with breathing. When an airway is blocked, mucus trapped in the lung may become infected, resulting in pneumonia. Lung cancer can also cause fluid to build up in the space between the lungs and the ribs, causing shortness of breath.
- A cough that gets worse or does not go away
- Coughing up blood
- Breathing trouble, such as shortness of breath
- New wheezingA whistling-type noise that may occur while breathing because of narrowing of the small airways of the lungs when you breathe
- Ache or pain in your chest, upper back, or shoulder that doesn’t go away and may get worse with deep breathing
- A hoarse voice
- Frequent respiratory tractThe organs involved in breathing, including the nose, throat, larynx, trachea, bronchi, and lungs infections, such as pneumoniaA severe inflammation of all or part of the lungs in which the tiny air sacs called alveoli are filled with fluid or bronchitisInflammation and irritation of the bronchi, the tubes that carry air to the lungs; symptoms include cough and fatigue
General physical symptoms
- Feeling unusually tired all the time
- Weight loss with no known cause and loss of appetite
- Trouble swallowing
- Swelling in the face and/or veins in the neck
Lung cancer that spreads may cause other symptoms, like pain in the back or other bones or weakness in the arms or legs. If it spreads to the brain, it may cause headaches, seizures, dizziness, memory problems, or speech dificulties.2,3
Small cell lung cancer patients may also present with unique symptoms because small cell lung cancer tumors secrete homones. These symptoms are called paraneoplastic syndromes. An example of these is SIADH, symdrome of inappropriate anti-diuretic hormone secretion, which can lead to low blood sodium levels because the body retains fluid.3
Updated February 9, 2021
- Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Treatment (PDQ®). National Cancer Institute website. http://www.cancer.gov/types/lung/patient/non-small-cell-lung-treatment-pdq. Updated December 3, 2020. Accessed February 9, 2021.
- Lung Cancer – Non-Small Cell Symptoms and Signs. American Society of Clinical Oncology website. https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/lung-cancer-non-small-cell/symptoms-and-signs. Approved May 2020. Accessed February 9, 2021.
- Small Cell Lung Cancer Treatment (PDQ®)-Health Professional Version. National Cancer Institute website. https://www.cancer.gov/types/lung/hp/small-cell-lung-treatment-pdq. Updated December 28, 2020. Accessed February 9, 2021.