Symptoms do not usually 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.
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 —Often worse with deep breathing, coughing, or laughing
- 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.
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
- Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes— jaundice
- Bone pain
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.
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Last reviewed September 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP Last Updated: 7/12/2016