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Symptoms of Lung Cancer

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Updated August 22, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

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What are the symptoms of lung cancer? Since lung cancer survival is better the earlier it is caught, understanding some of the common symptoms of lung cancer is very important. Symptoms of lung cancer to be aware of can include:

Symptoms Related to Cancer in The Lungs

  • A cough that persists over time, or does not go away with treatment is a common warning sign of lung cancer. Other local symptoms that can be caused by lung cancer include:
  • coughing up blood (hemoptysis)
  • difficulty breathing – due to decreased airflow by a tumor obstructing the large airways or spread through the lungs
  • wheezing – caused by the interference of airflow through an airway obstructed by a tumor
  • pain in the chest, back, shoulder, or arm – when a lung tumor presses on nerves around the lungs
  • repeated lung infections such as pneumonia or bronchitis
  • hoarseness

No Symptoms

Roughly 25% of the time, lung cancer causes no symptoms at all. These tumors are usually found when a chest x-ray is done for another reason. Occasionally, lung cancer is found when a smoker or former smoker has a procedure to screen for lung cancer.

General Symptoms Associated With Lung Cancer

Lung cancer can sometimes present with vague symptoms. Concerns such as fatigue, unexplained weight loss, loss of appetite, and even depression can be a symptom of lung cancer as well as many other conditions. It is important to talk with your health care provider if you have any concerns such as these, especially if you have a history of smoking.

Symptoms Related to The Spread of Lung Cancer

Sometimes, the first symptoms of lung cancer are due to its spread (metastasis) to other regions in the body. With lung cancer, the most common places lung cancer spreads are to the liver, adrenal glands, brain, and bones. Symptoms commonly found include:
  • bone - pain in the back, ribs, or hips
  • brain - headaches, seizures, weakness on one side of the body, vision symptoms

Paraneoplastic Symptoms

Paraneoplastic symptoms are symptoms related to the production of hormones-like chemicals by some types of lung cancers. These often show up as unexplained findings on lab tests and can include:

Importance of Recognizing Symptoms

At the current time, almost half of people are diagnosed when lung cancer has already spread -- stage 4 lung cancer.  With stage 4 lung cancer the 5-year survival rate is only 1%.  In contrast, when lung cancer is caught early - stage 1 - the 5-year survival rate is closer to 50%.  For some people -- those who have smoked at least 30 pack-years - a screening test is available.  But for many people the only hope of finding lung cancer in the early stages is to recognize the symptoms.  Hence the importance of memorizing these symptoms and making an appointment to see your doctor if you have any concerns.

Further Reading:

Sources:

American Cancer Society. Signs and Symptoms of Lung Cancer. Updated 02/21/14. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/lungcancer-non-smallcell/moreinformation/lungcancerpreventionandearlydetection/lung-cancer-prevention-and-early-detection-signs-and-symptoms

National Institute of Health. Medline Plus. Lung Cancer. Updated 09/20/13. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/007270.htm

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