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What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Lung Cancer?

Published on Jul 01, 2022 and last reviewed on Oct 12, 2022   -  6 min read


The symptoms of lung cancer are much evident in the later stage of the disease as it advances. Read this article to know more.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Lung Cancer?


The lungs are one of the major organs of the respiratory system. It helps in the process of gas exchange (respiration) in the body. If lung function is impaired due to any disease, then it may result in shortness of breath, breathing difficulty, and affects body functions like sleep, etc. One should require proper medical care if they have these above-mentioned symptoms.

Lung cancer is a condition where abnormal cell growth takes place in the lungs. It is one of the main causes of death in the world. Lung cancer mostly originates in the bronchial tubes of the lungs that conduct air in and out of the lungs. Smoking is the most important risk factor that is attributed to lung cancer. There are many types of lung cancer, out of which non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC) are the two main types that together account for almost 90 % of lung cancer.

What Are the Causes of Lung Cancer?

The major cause of lung cancer is mainly smoking. However, non-smokers do get affected by lung cancer when associated with other risk factors. Cigarette smoking affects cells that line the lungs due to the potential carcinogens present in it. Your body has the ability to heal itself from the damage caused by smoking. But as the smoking habit becomes incessant, then potential permanent damage could be done by the carcinogens in cigarettes, and the body loses its capacity to heal. Quitting smoking is the best preventive measure to avoid the risk of getting lung cancer.

Some of the other risk factors causing lung cancers include:

  • Genetic factors like somatic mutations of TP53, EGFR, and KRAS genes are associated with lung cancer. Almost 8 % of lung cancers are due to genetic predisposition.

  • Exposure to substances like asbestos, arsenic, cadmium, nickel, petroleum products, etc.

  • Exposure to radiation therapy of the chest previously for the treatment of any other type of cancer could also be a potential risk factor.

  • Air pollution.

  • Exposure to radon gasses, etc.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Lung Cancer?

The signs and symptoms in lung cancer patients vary from each other. The incidence of symptoms are high in the later stage of the disease. Some of the signs and symptoms include:

Lung cancer patients often have a persistent cough that does not go away with time and worsens as the disease gets advanced. Discharge of blood-tinged sputum on coughing could be an alarming sign of lung cancer. Always pay attention to these alarming signs and have a consultation with your doctor for an early diagnosis.

  • Difficulty in Breathing:

Patients with lung cancer experience difficulty in breathing as cancer cause damage to the lungs. Shortness of breath and wheezing occur as cancer blocks the airway or due to fluid build-up in the chest. To delineate whether the above-mentioned symptoms are associated with lung cancer, please do consult your doctor for an accurate diagnosis.

  • Pleural Effusion:

Pleural effusion (fluid build-up in between the tissues of the lungs and chest)occurs in the advanced stage of non-small cell lung cancer. It is a definitive indicator of disease advancement to a malignant stage.

  • Pain:

Pain over the chest, shoulders, or back is observed in lung cancer patients. It may be due to an enlarged lymph node, tumor in the affected area, or due to persistent cough throughout the day. The nature of pain may be dull, sharp, constant, or intermittent. Do note such pain and inform your doctor about it.

  • Hoarseness in Voice:

Hoarseness in voice occurs as a result of a tumor that affects the nerves that control the voice box or larynx. Persistent hoarseness of voice is related to lung cancer but not every time. If you find any such changes, do consult your doctor to know the underlying cause.

  • Unexplainable Weight Loss:

Cancer patients might experience unexplainable weight loss at times. If you experience any such weight loss without any unidentifiable reason, then do consult your doctor.

  • Fatigue:

Fatigue that does not resolve after a proper rest is seen in cancer patients.

  • Loss of Appetite:

Loss of appetite leads to weight loss and malnutrition in cancer patients.

Some of the symptoms that are seen in metastasis of lung cancer include:

  1. Bone pain is seen in cases where lung cancer has metastasized to bone.
  2. If cancer has metastasized to the brain, then neurological changes like headache, dizziness, etc., are seen.
  3. Jaundice is often seen in patients with metastasis to the liver.
  4. Swelling of lymph nodes of the neck are also evident.

What Are the Different Syndromes Caused by Lung Cancer?

The different syndromes associated with lung cancer include:

  • Superior Vena Cava Syndrome (SVCS): It is more commonly seen in lung cancer. Non-small cell lung cancer causes SVCS. Tumor growth in the superior vena cava obstructs the blood vessel that carries blood from the head, neck, chest, and arm to the heart. This leads to a lack of blood supply to the heart leading to other major complications like difficulty in breathing, facial swelling, etc. Although it is not fatal in the majority of cases, proper medical care is necessary to treat it better.

  • Horner’s Syndrome: Horner’s syndrome is a combination of symptoms that occurs as a result of damage to the sympathetic nerves of the face. It is characterized by:

  • Miosis (constricted pupil).

  • Ptosis (drooping eyelid).

  • Anhidrosis (decreased sweating).

  • Enophthalmos (posterior displacement of the eye).

  • SIADH (Syndrome of Inappropriate Antidiuretic Hormone): The antidiuretic hormone in the body helps the kidney to regulate the amount of water lost through urine. In SIADH, the body makes an excess antidiuretic hormone (ADH) that leads to retaining excess water in the body. The symptoms often seen are fatigue, loss of appetite, vomiting, nausea, etc.

  • Cushing Syndrome: This disorder is characterized by a high level of cortisol hormone in the body. It is also known as hypercortisolism. The symptoms of these disorders include weight loss, fluid retention, weakness, etc.

How to Diagnose Lung Cancer?

Your doctor might suggest the following tests to diagnose lung cancer, these include:

  • Medical history and physical examination.

  • Imaging tests like X-ray, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), chest X-ray, and computed tomography scan (CT scan). Imaging tests reveal the presence of any tumor in the body, its size, site, and the extent to which it is spread.

  • Biopsy gives a definitive diagnosis of the condition.

  • Sputum cytology involves the examination of cells found in sputum under microscopic examination. It determines the presence of any abnormal cells in the sputum, which is highly valuable in lung cancer diagnosis.

  • Thoracentesis is used in diagnosing pleural effusion in lung cancer patients. It is a procedure in which excess fluid in between the lungs and chest wall is removed by a needle or small tube. It helps in finding the cause of the fluid build-up in the lungs and helps you breathe better.

What Are the Treatment Options of Lung Cancer?

The various treatment options by which lung cancer is treated include:

  • Surgery: Surgery involves the removal of any tumor or cancer tissue completely to treat cancer and avoid its recurrence.

  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy uses anticancer drugs to kill cancer cells. Along with cancer cells, chemotherapy also affects normal cells. To overcome this, scientists came up with targeted therapy,where specifically cancer cells are targeted without affecting normal cells.

  • Radiation Therapy: It uses high-energy X-rays to destroy cancer cells. The combined use of chemotherapy and radiation therapy is effective in treating lung cancer.

  • Thoracentesis: Thoracentesis is both diagnostic and therapeutic. It is used in diagnosing and treating pleural effusion associated with lung cancer.


Lung cancer is one of the deadliest cancers in the world. Although it is highly fatal, an early diagnosis could bring a big difference in treating the condition. Prevention of all the risk factors causing lung cancer, mainly smoking, will avoid the risk of developing lung cancer. Have a keen eye over your health status, and if you feel any suspicious changes in ur health, then do consult your doctor.


Last reviewed at:
12 Oct 2022  -  6 min read




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