Lung Cancer Signs and Symptoms

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Many lung cancer diagnoses occur before extreme symptoms occur. But even in early lung cancer you may notice some symptoms. This is why it is important to visit your doctor when you experience any changes in breathing or lung function. Going to the doctor early means an early stage diagnosis for many people. The earlier you catch your lung cancer, the greater your chances of effective treatment and a long life.

Signs and Symptoms of Lung Cancer

Common symptoms of lung cancer include:

  • Persistent cough not going away or worsening over time
  • Blood in coughed up fluid, spit or phlegm
  • Pains in your chest when deep breathing, coughing or laughing
  • Lost appetite and/or weight loss
  • Hoarseness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness, fatigue or low energy
  • Chronic bronchitis, pneumonia or other infections
  • Wheezing

When lung cancer metastasizes, it causes other symptoms. These symptoms of cancer spreading in your body include:

  • Bone pain in back, hips or other areas
  • Nervous system changes, such as weakness, limb numbness, dizziness, headaches, balance problems or seizures
  • Jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and eyes from liver involvement
  • Lumps just under your skin in the neck, above your collarbone or in other areas of your body from skin or lymph node involvement

Many of these symptoms appear from a wide variety of conditions, not just lung cancer. So having these symptoms does not automatically mean you have the disease. But having these signs means you need to see your doctor for examination, diagnosis and treatment of the condition causing your physical changes.

Syndromes of Lung Cancer

Some lung cancers cause collections of specific symptoms. These collections of symptoms lead to diagnosis of lung cancer syndromes, including:

Horner Syndrome

Cancers occurring in the top part of your lungs sometimes affect or damage eye and facial nerves. The symptoms related to these problems form a condition known as Horner Syndrome. Symptoms of Horner Syndrome include:

  • Drooping, weak eyelid
  • Smaller pupil in the affected eye
  • Reduced sweating on one side of your face
  • Severe shoulder pain

Superior Vena Cava Syndrome

A large vein carrying blood from your upper body back to your heart, the superior vena cava passes next to your right lung’s upper region, as well as by lymph nodes inside your chest. When lung cancer tumors press on this vein, it causes blood to back up. This leads to facial, neck, arm and upper chest swelling, sometimes with a bluish-red appearance to your skin. Many people with this syndrome also experience dizziness, headaches and unconsciousness.

Paraneoplastic Syndromes

When lung cancers create hormone-like substances, these chemicals enter your bloodstream and cause other physical problems even before any metastases. These syndromes are the first noticed signs of lung cancer for some people, even though they do not seem like lung-related problems due to involvement of other organs.

Nervous System Problems

Lung cancer sometimes leads your immune system to attack your nervous system, causing neurological symptoms and different syndromes. Two such syndromes are:

  • Lambert-Eaton Syndrome, with muscle weakness at the hips causing trouble standing up from sitting and later shoulder weakness
  • Paraneoplastic Cerebellar Degeneration, causing lost balance and arm and leg unsteadiness with trouble speaking or swallowing


Lung cancer causing high blood calcium leads to frequent urination, constipation, thirst, nausea, vomiting, weakness, fatigue, confusion and other problems

Bone Thickening or Excess Growth

Fingertip bones and other bones sometimes grow excessively or thicken with lung cancer, causing pain.

Blood Clots


Each of these symptoms occur on their own or with lung cancer. So having these signs or syndromes does not necessarily mean you have the lung disease. But if you notice any health problems, you should talk to your doctor.