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A quick guide to what's on this page

Lung cancer symptoms

The symptoms of lung cancer can be

  • Having a cough most of the time
  • A change in a cough you have had for a long time
  • Being short of breath
  • Coughing up phlegm (sputum) with signs of blood in it
  • An ache or pain when breathing or coughing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tiredness (fatigue)
  • Losing weight

Less common symptoms of lung cancer

There are other symptoms of lung cancer that are less common. They are usually due to more advanced lung cancer. They include

  • A hoarse voice
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Swelling of the face or neck
  • Changes in the shape of your fingers and nails called finger clubbing
  • A constant ache or pain in your chest or shoulder that has lasted some time
  • Shortness of breath caused by fluid around the lungs (called a pleural effusion)
  • Pain or discomfort under your ribs on your right side (from cancer cells in the liver)

All of these symptoms can be caused by other diseases apart from lung cancer. Some types of lung cancer can produce hormones that cause symptoms that don’t seem to be anything to do with the lungs.

 

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General symptoms of lung cancer

The symptoms of lung cancer may include

  • Having a cough most of the time
  • A change in a cough you have had for a long time
  • Being short of breath
  • Coughing up phlegm (sputum) with signs of blood in it
  • An ache or pain when breathing or coughing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tiredness (fatigue)
  • Losing weight

 

 

Less common symptoms of lung cancer

Other less common symptoms of lung cancer are usually associated with more advanced lung cancer. They include

  • A hoarse voice
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Changes in the shape of your fingers and nails called finger clubbing
  • Swelling of the face caused by a blockage of a main blood vessel (superior vena cava obstruction)
  • Swelling in the neck caused by enlarged lymph nodes
  • A constant ache or pain in your chest or shoulder that has lasted some time
  • Pain or discomfort under your ribs on your right side (from cancer cells in the liver)
  • Shortness of breath caused by fluid around the lungs (called a pleural effusion)

Diagram showing a build up of fluid in the lining of the lungs (pleural effusion)

 

Hormone related symptoms

Some types of lung cancer cells produce hormones that get into the bloodstream. These hormones can cause symptoms that do not seem related to the lung cancer. Doctors call them paraneoplastic symptoms or paraneoplastic syndrome. These hormone related symptoms vary from person to person but may include

  • Pins and needles or numbness in the fingers or toes
  • Muscle weakness
  • Drowsiness, weakness, dizziness or confusion
  • Breast swelling in men
  • Blood clots (thrombosis)

These symptoms are uncommon with lung cancer but they can happen. So it is important to tell your doctor about any new symptoms you have noticed. If they are caused by hormones from the cancer cells, you can have treatment to help you feel better.

 

Symptoms of pancoast tumours

Lung cancer growing right at the top of the lung is called a pancoast tumour. These tumours can cause very specific symptoms. The most common is severe shoulder pain or pain that travels down the arm. Pancoast tumours can also cause a collection of symptoms called Horner's syndrome. These are

  • Drooping or weakness of one eyelid
  • A small pupil in that eye
  • Loss of sweating on that same side of the face

These symptoms of Horner's syndrome are caused by the tumour pressing on or damaging a nerve that runs up from the neck to that side of the face.

 

More information

The earlier a cancer is picked up, the easier it is to treat it and the more likely the treatment is to be successful. So it is important that you go to your GP as soon as possible if you notice worrying symptoms.

Brand 2013 petri dish

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Updated: 25 March 2014