Signs of Lung Cancer

Most lung cancers do not cause any signs or symptoms until they spread, but some people with early lung cancer do have symptoms. Recognizing the early signs of lung cancer is key to diagnosis at an earlier stage, when treatment is more likely to be effective. Learn more about lung cancer diagnosis.

Common Lung Cancer Signs and Symptoms

The most common lung cancer signs and symptoms are:

  • An unexplained cough that does not go away or gets worse
  • Coughing up blood or rust-colored phlegm
  • Chest pain that worsens with deep breathing, coughing or laughing
  • Hoarseness
  • Weight loss and/or loss of appetite
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia that won’t go away or keep coming back
  • New onset of wheezing

Signs of Advanced Stages of Lung Cancer

As lung cancer progresses, its signs and symptoms may become more severe or intense.

If lung cancer spreads to distant organs, it may cause:

  • Bone pain in the back or hips
  • Nervous system changes, such as headache, weakness or numbness of an arm or leg, dizziness, balance problems or seizures, from cancer spread to the brain and/or spinal cord
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes, from cancer spread to the liver
  • Lumps near the surface of the body, from cancer spread to the skin or lymph nodes

Lung Cancer Syndromes

Some lung cancers can cause groups of symptoms, known as syndromes:

  • Horner syndrome. Cancers of the top part of the lungs may affect certain nerves to the eye and part of the face, causing drooping or weakness of one eyelid, a smaller pupil in the same eye, reduced or absent sweating on the same side of the face and, sometimes, severe shoulder pain.
  • Superior vena cava syndrome. The superior vena cava is a large vein that carries blood from the head and arms back to the heart. Part of the superior vena cava passes next to the top part of the right lung and the lymph nodes inside the chest. Cancer in this area can press on the superior vena cava, causing blood to back up in the veins and leading to swelling in the face, neck, arms and upper chest. It can also cause headaches, dizziness and a change in consciousness.
  • Paraneoplastic syndromes. Some lung cancers produce hormone-like substances that can affect distant tissues and organs, leading to a variety of paraneoplastic syndromes. In some cases, these syndromes may be the first symptoms of lung cancer. The symptoms associated with these syndromes depend on the hormone or hormone-like substance produced by the tumor.

The Lung Cancer Institute at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center

At the Lung Cancer Institute in Livingston, NJ, we provide a multidisciplinary, collaborative approach to lung cancer care. Our team of lung cancer specialists has experience in treating both early-stage and complex cases of lung cancer. Our goal is to provide each patient with a personalized treatment plan that matches their needs, and offers the lowest risk and highest chance of cure.