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What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Lung Cancer?

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What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Lung Cancer?

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

Written by

Dr. Ramji. R. K

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Patil Pratik Pramod

Published At July 1, 2022
Reviewed AtDecember 21, 2023


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:

  • Persistent Cough:

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.

Frequently Asked Questions


Where Does Lung Cancer Usually Appear in the Beginning?

Lung cancer generally begins in the bronchial tubes of the lungs. Bronchial tubes are two large airway passages that carry air to and from the lungs. The cancer cells can spread to the adjacent lymph nodes and other organs.


What Are the Unexpected Signs of Lung Cancer?

Some unexpected signs of lung cancer can occur before early signs of the condition. Some common signs of lung cancer that go unnoticed are clubbing of the fingers or toes (enlargement and downward slopping of the fingernails). Cancer of the lungs may develop an increase in the body's calcium, which could disrupt the GIT (gastrointestinal tract), causing nausea, vomiting, and constipation. Other unexpected signs of lung cancer are shoulder pain, headaches, dizziness, and weight loss.


What Are the Pre-indications of Lung Cancer in the Early Stages?

The most common warning sign of lung cancer is a persisting cough that might last for more than eight weeks. Other warning signs of lung cancer are difficulty breathing, coughing up blood, infections of the respiratory tract, and chest pain. Frequent coughing in lung cancer may affect the vocal cord (voice box) and lead to hoarseness of voice.


Is It Possible to Cure Lung Cancer?

Early Diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer are believed to cure up to 80-90 percent. Recent advancements and improvements in lung cancer treatment have shown better prognoses in many patients. However, they can never be completely cured due to the higher recurrence rate.


Does Lung Cancer Affect Young Adults?

Lung cancer is a disease of the older population with a history of tobacco use, however, it can affect young adults too. Rarely it can occur in patients under the age of 25. The types and risk factors of lung cancer in the young population may vary with lung cancer in the older population.


Can an X-ray determine Lung Cancer?

Even though X-rays are used as a diagnostic tool in lung cancer, they fail to determine lung cancer in the early stages of the condition. X-rays can determine lung cancer only in the advanced stages of the condition. Diagnosis of lung cancer is not done using X-rays alone, they are used with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT).


Where Is Lung Cancer Pain Usually Felt?

The most common sign of lung cancer is a pain in the chest region. The pain usually worsens with deep breathing and coughing. Chest pain in lung cancer normally develops during the advanced stages of the condition. The pain in the chest region develops when the tumor cells in the lung start to grow rapidly and uncontrollably.


Is It Possible to Detect Lung Cancer Through a Blood Test?

A blood test can not detect lung cancer, the diagnostician will use radiographic investigative techniques to detect lung cancer. However, blood tests may be performed in patients with lung cancer to determine the overall health of the patient. The doctor may perform blood tests on these patients during the treatment to evaluate for side effects of the therapeutic agents.


How Are Lung Cancers Detected?

Most asymptomatic cases of lung cancer are detected during lung screening. The initial investigation involves radiographic investigations such as X-ray, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), and Computed Tomography (CT). But the confirmatory diagnosis is made while assessing the cells of the lung through a microscope by performing thoracentesis (an invasive procedure performed to remove fluid from around the lungs), sputum cytology (an examination of fluid that is brought up during coughing under the microscope), or needle biopsy (a procedure that uses a needle to obtain a sample of lung cells).


What Are the Causes of Lung Cancer?

The primary cause of lung cancer is smoking also caused by passive smoking. Cases with no history of smoking and passive smoking have also occurred. The carcinogens (cancer-causing substances) present in cigarette smoke are believed to affect the cells lining the lungs. This, in turn, causes abnormal multiplication of cells in the lungs, causing lung cancer.


Is It Possible to Cure Stage 1 Lung Cancer?

Stage 1 lung cancer is when the cancer is confined to only the lungs and has not spread to other organs. Early detection of stage 1 cancer and appropriate treatment has a higher cure rate of 80-90 percent. Treatment options include a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy.


What Is the Life Expectancy for Lung Cancer Patients?

The life expectancy of a lung cancer patient depends on various factors such as the age of the patient, stage of cancer, and metastasis (spread of cancer cells to other parts of the body). According to the American Lung Association, the average life expectancy of patients diagnosed with lung cancer is approximately five years. However, the life expectancy of patients with metastasized lung cancer is very low.


How Can Lung Cancer Be Prevented?

Lung cancer can be prevented by avoiding all the risk factors that contain carcinogens. It is strictly recommended to abstain from smoking and to avoid passive smoking. It is advisable to change eating habits and adopt a healthy lifestyle. Patients with precancerous conditions are advised to start taking appropriate medications.
Dr. Patil Pratik Pramod
Dr. Patil Pratik Pramod

Medical oncology


lung cancer
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