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Symptoms do not appear until lung cancer is in advanced stages. If you experience any symptoms, do not assume it is due to cancer. Many symptoms can be caused by other less serious conditions, such as pneumonia or pleurisy. However, it is still important to discuss them with your doctor. Early detection and treatment improve outcomes for both cancer and other health conditions.

Common Symptoms

Symptoms may differ depending on the location of the tumor or how long it has been growing. The most common symptoms of lung cancer are:

  • Persistent cough—The presence of a persistent cough that worsens over time. The cough does not go away and cannot be explained by illness.
  • Shortness of breath—Airway obstruction makes breathing difficult. Wheezing, a whistling sound heard during breathing, may also be present. These will symptoms will worsen over time.
  • Coughing up blood—This includes blood-stained mucus. Coughing up blood can also be present with lung infections.
  • Hoarseness—A nerve in the chest that controls your vocal cords may stop working as the cancer grows, resulting in a hoarse voice.
  • Increased frequency of infections—Fluid build-up in the lungs increases the frequency of lung infections like pneumonia or acute bronchitis.
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty swallowing—If cancer surrounds or causes pressure on the esophagus (the tube that moves food from the throat to the stomach), it may be difficult to swallow food and drinks. Over time, it will be come progressively more difficult to swallow.
Advanced Symptoms

Later stages of cancer may cause:

  • Swelling in the neck and face
  • Intense fatigue or malaise (general feeling of illness)
  • Decreased appetite and unintended weight loss
  • Clubbing—nails that bulge or thicken
  • Fever of unknown origin
  • Loss of bladder and/or bowel control
  • Abdominal or back pain caused by pressure on nearby nerves
  • Seizures, lightheadedness, or muscle weakness
  • Jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes
  • Bone pain—if cancer has spread to bones

Certain types of lung tumors can also trigger other syndromes in the body, called paraneoplastic syndromes. They occur when the tumor secretes hormones that influence bodily functions. Specific syndromes associated with lung cancer may indicate the presence of the disease.

References:

General information about non-small cell lung cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/types/lung/patient/non-small-cell-lung-treatment-pdq. Updated July 8, 2016. Accessed July 12, 2016.

General information about small cell lung cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/types/lung/patient/small-cell-lung-treatment-pdq. Updated July 7, 2016. Accessed July 12, 2016.

Lung cancer (non-small cell). American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003115-pdf.pdf. Accessed July 12, 2016.

Lung cancer (small cell). American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003116-pdf.pdf. Accessed July 12, 2016.

Non-small cell lung cancer. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114774/Non-small-cell-lung-cancer. Updated January 25, 2016. Accessed July 28, 2016.

Small cell lung cancer. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115654/Small-cell-lung-cancer. Updated October 15, 2015. Accessed July 28, 2016.

What are the symptoms of lung cancer? American Lung Association website. Available at: http://www.lung.org/lung-health-and-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/lung-cancer/symptoms-causes-and-risk-factors/symptoms.html. Accessed July 12, 2016.



Last reviewed September 2015 by Mohei Abouzied, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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