Lung Cancer Symptoms

Lung cancer represents the third most common cancer in the US, yet more people die from lung cancer than any other form of cancer. Although the overall rate of new lung cancer cases has been decreasing over several decades, the 5-year survival rate for those diagnosed with lung cancer is only about 20%, with women having a somewhat higher survival rate than men.

Most lung cancers are diagnosed in advanced stages. That’s because lung cancer may not cause any symptoms in its early stages and early symptoms – like shortness of breath, persistent cough, and coughing up blood – can be symptoms of other non-cancerous conditions as well. Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, and smokers are 15 to 30% more likely to develop lung cancer or die from the disease than non-smokers. In addition to tobacco use, environmental factors like exposure to radon and asbestos can also increase your risk of developing lung cancer. The risk of lung cancer increases with age, with most cases being diagnosed in those who are age 65 or older. 

Because lung cancer may not have many symptoms until it has spread and become more serious, it is important to detect cancer as early as possible, when treatments are more likely to be successful. Annual screening for those who are at higher risk for lung cancer – like those who smoke – may help detect lung cancer in its earliest stages and improve the chance of successful treatment.

Early Symptoms

Reach out to your doctor if you notice any of these early lung cancer symptoms:

  • A cough that won’t go away – lung cancer can cause a build-up of fluid in the chest – called pleural effusion – that can cause coughing
  • Coughing up blood or rust-colored phlegm (mucus) – regardless of the amount of blood present, contact your doctor if you cough up any blood or rust-colored phlegm
  • Shortness of breath or wheezing – cancer can cause a narrowing of the airway passages, making it more difficult to breathe
  • Hoarseness – lung tumors may press on a nerve or vocal cords, causing hoarseness or a raspy voice
  • Constant chest pain – lung tumors may cause chest pain by pressing on nerves and causing tightness
  • Repeated problems with pneumonia or bronchitis – lung cancer can block airway passages that lead to more frequent infections
  • Loss of appetite – certain kinds of tumors, like lung tumors, release hormones that may make you feel like you’re full when you aren’t
  • Unexplained weight loss – lung cancer can lead to an increase in inflammation, which enhances the breakdown of muscle and fat in the body
  • Fatigue – lung cancer can cause fatigue for a number of reasons, including hormonal changes or infections

Advanced Symptoms

Advanced lung cancer that has spread can cause symptoms in other parts of the body. Some of the symptoms of advanced lung cancer may include:

  • Speaking difficulties – can occur if tumors continue to press against the vocal cords
  • Nervous system changes (headache, balance problems, dizziness, etc.) – can occur if cancer spreads to the brain
  • Jaundice – can occur if cancer spreads to the liver
  • Swelling in the lymph nodes, face, arms, and neck – caused by the accumulation of immune cells in parts of the body
  • Bone pain (particularly in the hips and back) – can occur if cancer spreads to the bones

When to See a Doctor

See your doctor right away if you are experiencing any persistent symptoms or have symptoms that are worrying you. If you are at a high risk, talk to your doctor about annual lung cancer screening to try to detect any cancer in its earliest stages, when it be easier to treat.

Make an Appointment With a Lung Cancer Expert

To learn more about lung cancer treatment at MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper or to schedule an appointment with one of our lung cancer specialists, please call 855.MDA.COOPER (855.632.2667) or request an appointment form using our online form.