Lung Cancer Symptoms

Up to one-fourth of all people with lung cancer may have no symptoms when the cancer is diagnosed. These cancers usually are identified incidentally when a chest x-ray is performed for another reason. The majority of people, however, develop symptoms. The symptoms are due to direct effects of the primary tumor, to effects of metastatic tumors in other parts of the body, or to disturbances of hormones, blood, or other systems caused by the cancer.


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Symptoms of primary lung cancers include cough, coughing up blood, chest pain, and shortness of breath.

  • A new cough in a smoker or a former smoker should raise concern for lung cancer.
  • A cough that does not go away or gets worse over time should be evaluated by a health-care provider.
  • Coughing up blood (hemoptysis) occurs in a significant number of people who have lung cancer. Any amount of coughed-up blood is cause for concern.
  • Chest pain is a symptom in about one-fourth of people with lung cancer. The pain is dull, aching, and persistent and may involve other structures surrounding the lung.
  • Shortness of breath usually results from a blockage to the flow of air in part of the lung, collection of fluid around the lung (pleural effusion), or the spread of tumor throughout the lungs.
  • Wheezing or hoarseness may signal blockage or inflammation in the lungs that may go along with cancer.
  • Repeated respiratory infections, such as bronchitis or pneumonia, can be a sign of lung cancer.
  • Lung cancer most often spreads to the liver, the adrenal glands, the bones, and the brain.
  • Metastatic lung cancer in the liver usually does not cause symptoms, at least by the time of diagnosis.
  • Metastatic lung cancer in the adrenal glands also typically causes no symptoms by the time of diagnosis.
  • Metastasis to the bones is most common with small cell cancers but also occurs with other lung cancer types. Lung cancer that has metastasized to the bone causes bone pain, usually in the backbone (vertebrae), the thighbones, and the ribs.
  • Lung cancer that spreads to the brain can cause difficulties with vision, weakness on one side of the body, and/or seizures.

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