Lung Cancer Signs

10 Early Warning Signs of Lung Cancer
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Many people see a lung cancer diagnosis as a death sentence. That's understandable, since lung cancer kills more than 1.3 million people a year. But when caught early enough, lung cancer can be treatable and, often, curable. According to the National Cancer Institute, the five-year survival rate for lung cancer that hasn't metastasized, or spread, is slightly more than 50 percent, as compared to nearly 4 percent for lung cancer that's already spread to other organ systems. So pay close attention to these early -- and sometimes surprising -- signs of lung cancer, and be assertive about bringing anything suspicious to your doctor's attention.

Depression or other mood changes

Researchers have recently noted a surprising connection between first-time diagnosis of depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric symptoms and lung cancer. In a surprising number of cases, cancer patients -- particularly those with lung cancer -- discover they have a tumor after being referred for psychiatric care. One study that followed more than four million people for ten years, for example, found that when people ages 50 to 64 were referred to a psychiatrist for the first time in their lives, the overall incidence of cancer increased almost fourfold.

How it feels: Psychiatric symptoms can take many forms, from the fatigue, lethargy, and low spirits characteristic of depression to racing, panicky thoughts. Irritability, unexplained outbursts of anger, and other personality changes also can indicate psychiatric issues. As one lung cancer patient recalls, "Everything just seemed to get to me."

What causes it: The connection between anxiety, depression, and lung cancer isn't clear, except that people may be feeling generally subpar without knowing why.

What to do: If you notice personality and mood changes that are out of character, either for yourself or someone else, talk about them and search for a cause. If they seem to come out of the blue, bring them to a doctor's attention and ask if there might be a physical explanation.

Frequent illness

Getting sick over and over again with colds, flu, bronchitis, or even pneumonia may make you wonder if your immune system is to blame. But another possible culprit for repeated illness is lung cancer. That's especially true for women who smoke.

How it feels: The symptoms are the same as they are for unrelated colds, flus, and infections. The difference is in how persistent the symptoms are: either lasting a long time or going away only to recur.

What causes it: As the cancer settles into the tissues of the lung and the bronchial tubes, it causes symptoms similar to a cold or flu. Lung cancer also makes the lungs more susceptible to illness and infection. With the body's immune system busy fighting the cancer, it's less able to defend itself against germs, resulting in more serious infections, such as bronchitis and pneumonia.

What to do: Keep close track if it seems as if you're getting sick more than usual, and bring the situation to your doctor's attention.

What Appetite Loss and Abnormal Breast Growth in Men May Mean

Loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss

If the pounds are peeling off and you haven't made lifestyle changes that would account for weight loss, or if foods you used to like begin to seem unappealing, it's important to look for an explanation.

How it feels: Some people lose interest in food and forget to eat; others find that when they sit down to eat, they feel full quickly or begin to feel nauseated when they eat too much or too fast. Still others may notice that their clothes are loose even though they hadn't been aware of eating less.

What causes it: Lung cancer can cause loss of appetite and weight loss for a number of reasons. As it becomes more of an effort to breathe (even when you're unaware that this is so), your appetite can be affected. Abdominal pain can contribute to nausea. Acute loss of appetite can occur when cancer has spread to the liver.

What to do: Keep watch on this symptom to make sure it's not caused by gastrointestinal illness, food poisoning, or some other cause such as bloating and PMS in women. If lack of appetite persists, or the needle on the scale is moving with no effort on your part, see your doctor.

Abnormal breast growth in men

Breast enlargement in men, known as gynecomastia, is an embarrassing topic, particularly with TV and movie jokes about "man boobs." But it can also be an important clue to an underlying health issue.

How it feels: Breast enlargement can be subtle or dramatic and can occur in one breast or both. The enlargement may also occur primarily around and under the nipple rather than in the surrounding breast tissue, causing a dome-like appearance.

What causes it: As tumors metabolize, they often release hormones, proteins, and other substances into the bloodstream, triggering what are known as "paraneoplastic syndromes." The resulting hormonal abnormality can lead to breast growth.

What to do: Breast enlargement is definitely something to discuss with your doctor. There's a chance it's associated with weight gain, but there are other possible explanations too that should be explored.

What Fatigue and Pain in Fingers May Mean


Another early sign of certain types of lung cancer is debilitating fatigue that's not associated with any clear cause. (In other words, you didn't just run a marathon.)

How it feels: Similar to the exhaustion you experience when you have a fever, cold, or the flu: You can't make yourself get off the couch. Cancer fatigue is tellingly persistent -- it doesn't work to "snap out of it" or rev yourself up with a cup of coffee.

What causes it: Substances released into your bloodstream by lung cancer tumors can affect oxygen levels, the health of red blood cells, adrenal gland function, and other aspects of energy production. Metastatic cancer may spread to the adrenal glands, which directly control the release of energy and the stimulus of cortisol, the fight-or-flight hormone that motivates you to act.

What to do: Because fatigue can be caused by insomnia, overwork, overexertion, and lots of other things, explore -- and deal with -- other possible causes before you call the doctor. (This will also prevent your concern from being dismissed.) Describe clearly what you can and can't do and how your condition differs from run-of-the-mill tiredness.

Thickened, painful fingertips

Clubbing or thickening of the fingertips can occur for several reasons, but the most common is lung cancer. Many people mistakenly attribute this symptom to arthritis.

How it feels: Fingertips may appear wider or raised under the nail or may feel swollen, reddened, or warm. You also might notice clumsiness and difficulty picking things up; it might feel like you're losing fine motor skills in your hands.

What causes it: Lung tumors can release cytokines and other chemicals into the bloodstream that spur bone and tissue growth at the fingertips and under the fingernails. Lack of oxygen in the blood can also restrict circulation to the fingertips.

What to do: Any unusual symptom such as thickening, swelling, or clubbing of the fingers or lack of fine motor coordination is important to bring to a doctor's attention.

What Shortness of Breath and a Persistent Cough May Mean

Shortness of breath

About 15 percent of lung cancer cases are in nonsmokers, often as a result of exposure to air pollution, secondhand smoke, or toxins such as asbestos and radon. So although shortness of breath is one of the classic symptoms of lung cancer, it tends to go unnoticed among many people until it's quite pronounced, because it's so easy to attribute to other causes.

How it feels: Like you're developing asthma or have gotten out of shape. It may feel as though it's harder to draw a deep breath, especially when exerting yourself, or you may notice a wheezy feeling in your chest.

What causes it: Lung cancer can develop in the lung sacs themselves or in the bronchial tubes leading to the lungs. Tumor growth interferes with the ability of the lungs to fully inhale and exhale air.

What to do: Ask the doctor to perform breathing tests for asthma and COPD to see if there's another potential cause. If not, ask for a chest X-ray.

Persistent cough or hoarseness

People diagnosed with lung cancer often look back and realize they've been plagued by voice changes or a recurrent cough for months or even years, but they blamed it on allergies or illness. Smokers may blame this symptom on "smoker's cough."

How it feels: One tip-off is having to clear your throat frequently; another is increased saliva production. Your voice might sound throaty or hoarse, or people might ask if you have laryngitis. The cough can be dry, like the kind that comes with allergies, or wet, such as with flu or a cold. Phlegm might be tinted orange, brown, or red with blood, or you might even spot blood in your saliva.

What causes it: When there's a blockage in bronchial tubes or lungs from a developing tumor, mucus can build up behind it. A lung tumor can also press upward and outward on the vocal cords and larynx. Tumors often have a rich blood supply, which can leak into the airway, tinting saliva and cough secretions.

What to do: Tell your doctor if you develop a chronic cough or hoarseness that doesn't go away after a few days. And if you cough or spit up blood, report this to your doctor immediately.

What Muscle Weakness and Pain in the Torso May Mean

Muscle weakness

If you feel like even carrying groceries or pushing the lawnmower is too much effort, you'll likely decide you're just tired or under the weather. But persistent muscle weakness can be one of the very earliest signs of certain types of lung cancer.

How it feels: Like everything is harder to do. Climbing stairs and household tasks may feel doubly hard or even impossible, and when you exercise you may feel like you can only manage a fraction of your usual routine.

What causes it: A specific type of muscle weakness, known as Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome, occurs when lung tumors release autoantibodies that attack the muscles. Cancer cells can release chemicals that disrupt the normal activity of red blood cells, causing anemia, or lowering sodium levels and raising calcium levels in the blood. When lung cancer spreads to the brain, it can cause weakness on one side of the body.

What to do: Describe the weakness as specifically as you can, giving examples of activities that you can no longer perform easily. If you're older and the weakness could be a result of advancing age, make a clear distinction between what you're feeling now and how you've felt in the recent past.

Chest, shoulder, back, or abdominal pain

Thanks to the movies and public education campaigns about heart disease, it's almost a given to associate chest pain with a heart attack. However, it's important to consider lung cancer as a cause, particularly in people who don't have risk factors for heart disease.

How it feels: The chest or back pain triggered by tumor growth tends to take the form of a dull ache that persists over time. The ache may be in the chest or lung area, but it may also feel as if it's in the upper back, shoulder, or neck -- and it's easily confused with muscle pain. In some cases the pain is felt in the abdomen, making it easy to confuse with a digestive ailment.

What causes it: Lung cancer can cause pain through direct pressure from the tumor, or indirectly when the tumor irritates nerves traveling through the area. In some cases, chest, neck, and shoulder pain is "referred" when the brain incorrectly interprets signals from the tumor pushing on the phrenic nerve in the lungs. Small cell lung cancer can cause chest pain because it typically starts in the center of the chest in the bronchial tubes leading to the lungs and spreads rapidly, pushing on blood vessels and other organs. A specific type of tumor, known as a Pancoast tumor, forms at the top of the lungs and puts pressure on nerves, causing pain in the shoulder, in the armpit, or radiating down the arm.

What to do: Always call the doctor right away if you experience persistent unexplained chest, shoulder, back, or abdominal pain. Chest pain is a symptom in about one-fourth of people with lung cancer, yet it's most often attributed to other causes, such as heart disease.

Melanie Haiken

Melanie Haiken discovered how important it is to provide accurate, targeted, usable health information to people facing difficult decisions when she was health editor of Parenting magazine. See full bio

about 1 year, said...

If an Xray of the lungs look good is it possible to still have lung cancer

over 1 year, said...

These signs helped my sister a lot to understand lung cancer for better. The oncologists suggested she should go for radiation therapy for treatment. We are doing no stone unturned for the treatment. She is in her 3rd stage of lung cancer. The doctors at ARC are helping with the treatments. We were glad that one of our relatives came to know about this website named where doctors are highly qualified in their fields.

over 1 year, said...

If have been under the care of Warrinton Respiratory clinic since 2014 they have taken many tests but do not give me results. Being deaf I request clinical notes so I can understand what is going on with me not all consultants do this. I would like to know given this painful mucus cough for over three years with a pain in my chest bone and lungs I thing maybe wind, due to the severity of the constant daily pain my bones aphave started to go stiff suddenly. Question I would like to know would I be in my rights to aske for a lung cancer test? Thank you

over 1 year, said...

Surprised to learn unusual bouts of anger, never in my life I been so impatient with people I hate moanets and I have become one. I have been ill now for over three years that started of in February 2013 as a persistent mucus cough that kept me up all night coughing. Hair loss breathlessness and dry skin. Since then I have been under the care of six different specialists departments. They cannot give me answers to questions I have raised as possible causes . Respiratory clinic since 2014 they took many tests but never any results given then January 2016 informed me I had lung diesease due to inflammation of the linings of my lungs that is Unfixable. I was not told this result until January 2016 I had to agree to trial and error to try to fix this very painful mucus cough. The first test of 8 weeks proved successful the painful cough disappeared. However this painful cought has returned after only three months it is as bad as it was after the thee years. I was perscribed 4 x 10ml bottles of steriod nasal drop a for over 19 years in my eats and nose and for two years in my eyes but specialists don't know if these are the case of all my weird illness since 2013 some of the requiring Opetations more than once on the bones in my feet and my sininus. Thirst, dry mouth dry crusty ears, inflammation unfixable Sinusis bloating bladder infections all since 2013. I have kept a record of two arch lever files on my conditions suffered during this period. I relies there is nothing I can do about it these days because even though. I was a me,bet of my local gym until 2012 and look younger than my years which go against me, my age is the deciding factor in all of this I am over 70.. Hope this makes sense my eye problem cause me to have double vision. Specially at night.

over 1 year, said...

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about 2 years, said...

I was diagnosed with a Pan Coast tumor stage 3b lung cancer in 2002, I had surgery, radiation and chemo and was cancer free until 2015. In Jan. 2015 I went to the ER for a pain in my leg. I was pretty sure it was a DVT because I had one before and I had just returned from Florida. I did indeed have a DVT plus I had 2 pulmonary embolism and then they told me I had stage IV metastatic lung cancer that had gone to my spine and 22 other bones. I have had 15 radiation treatments to my spine. My tumor tested positive for EGFR mutated gene, Tarceva taken orally daily just targets the mutated gene in the cancer so all my other counts stay normal. I am feeling pretty good my battle is trying to keep some weight on my bones. I know that I will probably not be cured of this cancer but I believe that I have more options now then in the past.

over 2 years, said...

DEC 15 th 2015 I lost my Husband of almost 41 Years from Lung Cancer we found out in Dec of 2014 he had Lung Cancer . The Ambulance took him to the Hospitial we thought he had Pneumonia he had trouble breathing.. He was still in the Hospitial when we found out 3 Days later he had Lung Cancer and it was inoperable that was so hard to know that he was only 68 years old. Its so, so hard without him I,m still not over Losing him. He only made it for 9 Months after we found out. This September 20 th 2015 its been one Year sense he left me. I lost my Sister from lung cancer to in 2005 and lost my aunt from lung cancer in 1992...My sisters was inoperable to and my aunts. ad I lost my cousins wife to from Lung Cancer. I am glad some People make it ok.. I wish my Husband and the rest would have made it.... Sincerley Mrs Tony S. From Roseburg, Oregon.

over 2 years, said...

My mother had no shot. The lung cancer had metastasized to her cervical spine (neck) and she was asymptomatic to any breathing problems, mood changes and such. She was diagnosed and dead within a month. She was only 62, a 30 year, pack a day smoker but quit for 14 years before her diagnoses. And it's not true that green leafy vegetables and sunflower seeds greatly reduce the chances of getting the disease. The woman always had a fresh salad on her dinner table every night and very much enjoyed sunflower seeds.

over 2 years, said...

I have a fiancé that does a lot of coughing and she won't do have a CT scan I hope you will continue to send her information concerning lung cancer.

over 2 years, said...

My husband caught pneumonia in 2008. Since he had Emphysema his pulmonologist took an x-ray every. In 2012 the x-ray showed an abnormal shadow. A few diagnostic tests later revealed cancer in both lungs and one kidney. Two years later he had a seizure and a MRI showed the cancer had spread to his brain although 2 previous MRIs were clear of any abnormality. My husband died 3 1/2 weeks later. Please urge Medicare and physicians to perform diagnostic exams more often.

over 2 years, said...

I was extremely fatigued; had lost about 15 lbs. Since I was never a smoker I was fortunate that my doctor recommended a chest x-ray. They removed the upper left lobe. Since it was caught early I didn't need chemo or radiation. Know your body, pay attention to it and don't be afraid to talk to your doctor.

over 2 years, said...

I want to know that can treatment lung cancer? what is stage surely?

over 2 years, said...

thank you for this information. I was just diagnosed with Stage 1A adenocarcinoma in my left upper lobe. Had 2 biopsies before it could be definitive, but scheduled to see thoracic surgeon to discus lobectomy. I am lucky it was caught early and is curable with the surgery. In reading the systems, I had a lot of them but as a "nurse" I ignored or associated them with other problems. A chest x-ray showed something in lower right lung and CT picked up the "suspicious" nodule 2.78 cm and ground glass in appearance. Thanks you again, I was lucky and I hope others take these signs and symptoms seriously.

over 2 years, said...

My sister had horrible back pain, and went promptly to the hospital, where they found a large metastasis on her spine and a non-small-cell lung cancer in her lung. Ironically, she never smoked, but her first husband was a heavy smoker. He died of liver failure caused by alcoholism (she never drank either). They operated on her spine, gave radiation to the primary, and tried to give her chemotherapy for the tumor that remained in her spine. It killed her at 48. She never thought to have her physician look for lung cancer, considering that she had never smoked.

over 2 years, said...

I was also told no one is ever diagnosed with NSC until stage 2. I knew my boyfriend was very sick 1 1/2 years before he died but he just brushed it off as being tired. ER kept saying he had vertigo.

over 2 years, said...

Wish I had known all of this before my boyfriend died last year. He had almost all of these symptoms. He died 6 weeks after being diagnosed.