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Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Lung cancer symptoms: What you should know

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.

Lung cancer symptoms

Symptoms and signs of early lung cancer

There may be no symptoms at the onset of the disease. When present, common symptoms of lung cancer may include:

  • Coughing: This includes a persistent cough that doesn't go away or changes to a chronic "smoker's cough,” such as more coughing or pain.
  • Coughing up blood: Coughing up blood or rust-colored sputum (spit or phlegm) should always be discussed with your doctor.
  • Breathing difficulties: Shortness of breath, wheezing or noisy breathing (called stridor) may all be signs of lung cancer.
  • Loss of appetite: Many cancers cause changes in appetite, which may lead to unintended weight loss.
  • Fatigue: It is common to feel weak or excessively tired.
  • Recurring infections: Recurring infections, like bronchitis or pneumonia, may be one of the signs of lung cancer.

Signs of advanced stages of lung cancer

Advanced stages of lung cancer are often characterized by the spread of the cancer to distant sites in the body. This may affect the bones, liver or brain. As other parts of the body are affected, new lung cancer symptoms may develop, including:

  • Bone pain
  • Swelling of the face, arms or neck
  • Headaches, dizziness or limbs that become weak or numb
  • Jaundice
  • Lumps in the neck or collar bone region

FAQs for lung cancer symptoms

What are the first signs of lung cancer?

The first signs of lung cancer typically appear as a cough that lingers over an extended period of time. Other early signs include a chronic cough that is deeper and more hoarse than usual or a constant cough that produces blood in spit or phlegm. When no other medical conditions such as sickness or unexplained weight gain have developed, patients who experience shortness of breath, or who are easily winded or wheezing during normal activities, may consider being tested for lung cancer, since these may be early indicators of the disease. If you or a loved one experience these signs, consult a licensed physician and explore the early lung cancer detection options offered at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA).

What does it feel like when you have lung cancer?

Most people who have lung cancer experience chest pain when breathing deeply, coughing or laughing. Changes in breathing may be caused by an ongoing, non-cancer-related disease, fluid build-up in the lungs or a narrowing of the air passageways. If you also experience back pain when breathing, or if you cough up blood, feel tired constantly or experience chest pain when breathing, seek the expert opinion of a pulmonologist or another licensed physician.

How do you detect lung cancer?

Several tests are used to determine whether you have lung cancer. Most doctors typically order an X-ray of your lungs to identify an abnormal mass, or they may sample your sputum (spit or phlegm) for tests to identify cancer markers, and/or sample some tissue through a biopsy to confirm a mass is cancerous. Additional non-invasive tests such as CT scan may be performed to help detect lung cancer, while an endobronchial ultrasound and autofluorescence bronchoscopy may be performed to diagnose and stage lung cancer

What should I do if I believe I or loved one have lung cancer?

If you or a loved one experience these signs and symptoms, consult a licensed physician or pulmonologist for a medical diagnosis. CTCA® offers diagnostic services for patients who had a CT scan within the past two years that confirmed a mass of 6 mm or more. To learn more about your options, call (866) 646-6201 or chat with us to explore the diagnostic services available at CTCA. Our team members are available 24/7 to discuss your specific needs.


Last Revised: 10/08/2018

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Lung cancer experts Dr. Bruce Gershenhorn and Dr. Jonathan Kiev took time out of their schedules last week to answer your questions during our Lung Cancer Facebook Chat.

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