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Lung cancer symptoms

The early symptoms of lung cancer may be a slight cough or shortness of breath, depending on which part of the lung is affected. As the cancer develops, these symptoms may become more severe or intense. Like many other types of cancer, lung cancer may also cause systemic symptoms, like a loss of appetite or general fatigue.

Non-small cell lung cancer symptoms

Non-small cell lung cancers (NSCLC) may grow slowly over a period of time before symptoms develop. Tumors may interfere with the air passageways. The spread of the cancer into the lymph nodes or elsewhere in the body may bring about other conditions.

Common NSCLC symptoms are:

  • Persistent coughing, particularly without any known cause
  • A cough the produces blood or red-colored phlegm (hemoptysis)
  • Chest pain or painful breathing
  • Difficulty breathing or a shortness of breath
  • Fatigue or feeling unusually tired or weak
  • Hoarseness or wheezing
  • Frequent upper-respiratory infections, like bronchitis or pneumonia
  • Bone pain

Related conditions and syndromes

Other areas of the body may be affected by either the spread or development of tumors.

  • Neurological changes: Lung cancer may spread (metastasize) to the brain. This may cause headaches or even seizures. Numbness or weakness in the arms and legs may occur if a large tumor begins to press against a nerve.
  • Lumps: In advanced stages the cancer may spread throughout the lymph nodes. Sometimes tumors near the skin surface may appear as lumps.
  • Horner syndrome: Tumors may possibly cause nerve damage. Horner Syndrome is a particular set of symptoms associated with nerve damage. The symptoms often affect one side of the face causing a droopy eyelid and a reduction in the size of the pupil (the dark center of the eye).
  • Paraneoplastic syndromes: Cancer cells may make chemicals that trigger other reactions, which are collectively referred to as paraneoplastic syndromes. Symptoms may include high blood calcium levels (hypercalcemia), excess bone growth or blood clots.

Diagnosing lung cancer? It's about time

Learning whether an abnormal spot is lung cancer or a benign mass can take weeks, even months of tests and evaluations. The wait can be unnerving, and scary. It can also have consequences on your health.

Expedited diagnostic programs, like the one now being offered at our Chicago-area hospital, can cut down the waiting time considerably. The Illinois hospital’s "rapid lung-nodule diagnostic" program begins working even before a patient arrives.

Is it possible to have lung cancer and not have symptoms?

Lung cancer may be present for months before any symptoms emerge.

Top lung cancer questions answered

looking for a second opinion

Is genomic testing an option for me? Should I get a second opinion? How common is lung cancer in women? Whether it involves treatment options or what you should ask your doctor, we have the answers to common questions about lung cancer.

Understanding cancer symptoms

These symptoms may be attributed to a number of conditions other than cancer. If you notice any cancer signs or symptoms, it's important to visit your doctor for an accurate diagnosis.

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Navigating a diagnosis of lung cancer

podcast mod

Dr. Bruce Gershenhorn discusses lung cancer and advances in treatment.