If a patient has signs or symptoms that may be due to lung cancer, the doctor will examine the patient and take a medical history to check for risk factors and learn more about the symptoms. A medical history and physical examination do not provide a definite diagnosis of lung cancer.

As part of the medical history, the doctor will ask about the patient’s background. Questions may include:

  • Past or current illnesses and injuries
  • Family history of lung cancer and other health conditions
  • Environmental exposures that may have put the person at risk of lung diseases, including lung cancer. These include living in certain parts of the country where radon exposure is more likely; history of tobacco use; and jobs that might have put the person at risk for lung cancer, like mining or working with heavy metals. This information can also help the doctor figure out which kind of lung cancer a person is most likely to have—the type of lung cancer can influence the treatment choices.

It is also very useful for the patient to take along any medical records they have as well as a complete list of the medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, and any vitamins or supplements they use.

The doctor will also need to know about any new symptoms like cough or shortness of breath, along with others like weight loss, swelling in the face and/or veins in the neck, or a hoarse voice. The doctor will examine the patient to look for signs of disease, such as swollen lymph nodesA rounded mass of lymphatic tissue surrounded by a capsule of connective tissue. Lymph nodes filter lymph, the clear fluid that carries cells to fight infections and other diseases, and store lymphocytes (white blood cells)., decreased breath sounds, or anything else unusual.

If the results of the history and physical exam suggest possible lung cancer, additional tests will be done.1

Updated February 12, 2024


  1.  NCCN Guidelines for Patients®: Lung Cancer—Early and Locally Advanced—Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network website. https://www.nccn.org/patients/guidelines/content/PDF/lung-early-stage-patient.pdf. Version 3.2023 – April 13, 2023.  Accessed February 5, 2024.