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Lung Cancer: Signs and Symptoms

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This information was reviewed and approved by Jeffrey Kern, MD, Bronwyn Long, DNP, MBA, ACHPN, AOCNS, ACNS-BC, Laurie L. Carr, MD (10/1/2019).

Signs and symptoms of lung cancer are few, but may include those similar to a chest cold or a mild flu.


Early during the development of a lung cancer, there may be no symptoms, as the cancer is small and does not interfere with lung function. As the lung cancer advances more symptoms may be present.

If symptoms of lung cancer are present, they may include:

  • Coughing that doesn't go away or gets worse — Lung cancers can irritate the lung and bronchi (main airways in the lungs), leading to coughing.

  • Shortness of breath or dyspnea — This can be caused by a variety of problems due to lung cancer. Lung cancers growing in a bronchus (airway in the lungs) may block breathing to a part of the lung. Lung cancers growing in the lung may get large enough compress the lung and cause breathing problems. Fluid leaking from the tumor may collect around the lung, compress it and decrease lung capacity.

  • Coughing up blood — Lung cancers have a lot of blood vessels. Irritation of these blood vessels may cause them to bleed, leading to coughing up blood.

  • Chest pain — Lung cancers that grow out to the edge of the lung and rub against the inside of the chest wall may cause pain.

  • Fatigue

  • Weight loss

These are common signs and symptoms of a variety of lung diseases. With symptoms, testing is done to make a diagnosis of lung cancer and determine the best treatment plan.


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