Lung Cancer Symptoms

Written by the Healthline Editorial Team | Published on October 2, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Brenda B. Spriggs, MD, MPH, MBA on October 2, 2014

Lung Cancer Symptoms

Symptoms don’t generally occur in the early stages of lung cancer, but rather become apparent as the disease advances. It’s important to note that symptoms seen in patients with lung cancer can also occur with other lung diseases. Common symptoms of lung cancer are described in the following sections. You should contact your doctor for a complete medical evaluation, if you experience any of these symptoms.

Coughing

Coughing is your body’s way of trying to expel an irritant from the throat or airway by pushing a burst of air into the lungs. An intense, persistent, or consistently worsening cough can be a sign of lung cancer and should be investigated. Contact your doctor immediately if you cough up blood or bloody mucus and phlegm.

Shortness of Breath (Dyspnea)

Sometimes this sensation is described as a tight or crushing feeling in the chest. The spread of lung cancer can cause blockages in the major airways or the buildup of fluid around the lungs (pleural effusion), causing a shortness of breath.

Wheezing

Wheezing can be described as a high-pitched whistling that occurs when you breathe out. It’s caused by constricted air passages, which may be the result of a tumor.

Hoarseness or Change in Voice

Normally your vocal chords produce sound by opening and closing, causing vibrations. The vocal chords can become irritated and inflamed if lung cancer has spread to the throat. This may cause a change or hoarseness in your voice.

Chronic Fatigue

Fatigue is a constant worn-down feeling. With a disease like lung cancer, your body is under constant attack and works overtime to try to fight the disease and heal itself. This effort can bankrupt you of energy and leave you feeling tired and unmotivated.

Fever

A fever is an indication that something abnormal is happening in your body. When you are ill, your temperature rises above its normal 98.6 degrees. This is the body’s attempt to minimize heat loss and fight off infection. If the fever gets too high or does not go away in a few days, contact your doctor.

Swelling (Edema)

When the tiny blood vessels (capillaries) in your body are damaged or undergo pressure, they leak fluid. Your kidney responds by retaining water and salt to compensate for the loss. This excess fluid causes the capillaries to leak more fluid. Your lymph nodes work to clear excess fluid from your body. Cancer can block or damage your lymph nodes and prevent them from doing their job. This can result in the swelling of the neck, face, and arms.

Other Symptoms

Other potential symptoms of lung cancer include:

  • pain in the shoulders or back
  • constant chest pain
  • frequent or recurring lung infections (i.e. pneumonia and bronchitis)
  • unintended weight loss
  • loss of appetite
  • headache

Additional symptoms may occur once the cancer has spread to different parts of the body (metastasized). These symptoms include:

  • bone and joint pain
  • dizziness or seizures
  • unsteadiness or memory loss
  • yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice)
  • weakness or numbness of the arms and legs
  • blood clots
  • lumps near the surface of the skin, especially by the lymph nodes

Sometimes when it spreads, lung cancer can literally strike a nerve. This can cause a group of symptoms (a syndrome) to develop.

Horner Syndrome

Horner syndrome occurs when a tumor forms in the upper part of the lung, damaging a nerve that passes from the upper chest to the neck. This can cause severe neck or shoulder pain. Additional symptoms of this syndrome include:

  • drooping or weakness of one eyelid (ptosis)
  • smaller pupil size in the same eye
  • reduced or absent sweating on the same side of the face (anhidrosis)

Paraneoplastic Syndrome

Some lung cancers can cause paraneoplastic syndrome. This is a rare group of symptoms caused when the cancer produces hormone-like substances that affect other organs or tissue. These symptoms are sometimes the first evidence of cancer, although they often do not generate an immediate lung cancer diagnosis as they do not affect the lungs. Symptoms can affect the muscles, gastrointestinal tract, blood, and cardiovascular systems, among others.

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