Find out about possible symptoms of lung cancer and when to see your doctor.
A cough that won't go away
You might have a cough most of the time. It might be worse at different times of the day.
A change in a cough you have had for a long time
Your cough might:
- be more painful
- have a different sound
- bring up coloured mucus or phlegm
Being short of breath
You might get out of breath doing the things you used to do. Doctors call this dyspnoea.
Coughing up blood
This might be small amounts of blood. You might be coughing up rust coloured phlegm (sputum). Or your sputum might have flecks of red in it.
It is more unusual to cough up larger amounts of blood. But see your doctor straight away if this happens.
An ache or pain in the chest or shoulder
You might have pain in your chest or shoulder. It could be a dull ache or a sharper pain.
Loss of appetite
You might have lost your appetite or may not feel like eating foods that you normally like.
You might lose a lot of weight quickly when you are not dieting.
Feeling very tired (fatigue)
You might feel very tired a lot of the time.
Ongoing chest infections
You might have chest infections most of the time. Or you might have a chest infection that doesn’t get better with treatment.
Hormone related symptoms
Some types of lung cancer cells produce hormones that go into the bloodstream. These hormones can cause symptoms that don’t seem related to the lung cancer. Doctors call them paraneoplastic syndrome.
These hormone symptoms might include:
- pins and needles or numbness in the fingers or toes
- muscle weakness
- drowsiness, weakness, dizziness and confusion
- breast swelling in men
- blood clots
A lung cancer growing right at the top of the lung is called a pancoast tumour. These tumours cause very specific symptoms.
The most common symptom 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 the same eye
- loss of sweating on one side of the face
The 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.
Lung changes that show on an x-ray
Sometimes doctors might find some unusual changes on your chest x-ray. Your doctor might have arranged an x-ray for other reasons and you might not have any symptoms.
Changes on a chest x-ray don’t always mean that you have lung cancer. There can be other causes, such as an infection. But your doctor might arrange other tests to look further at the changes.
When to see your doctor
You should see your doctor if you:
- get out of breath doing the things you used to do without a problem
- have any blood in your phlegm (sputum) or cough up blood
- have a cough that is there most of the time or has changed
- feel tired all the time
- have lost your appetite or have weight loss
- have pain in your chest or shoulder
- have ongoing chest infections or a chest infection that doesn't get better
These symptoms may not be due to cancer but it is important to get them checked by a doctor.
Anne: I’m Anne Long, I live in Thornby. My husband died from lung cancer 36 years ago. I was diagnosed 9 years ago.
I was just brushing my teeth one morning and I saw this tiny thing in my sputum and I thought that shouldn’t be there.
So I went to see my doctor and she said, oh don’t worry about it I’ll send you for an x-ray. Which she did, and it came back that I had a shadow on my lung.
My appointment was at Southport hospital and we went in, and a gentleman told me that I had lung cancer.
I was very shocked because it hadn’t crossed my mind really. And I thought how am I going to tell the children?
On the morning of the operation they took half of my left lung and that was it. I didn’t need anything and I haven’t needed anything since.
When I just realised how fortunate I was that I did actually look at my body and took care of myself. It’s very important to look after ourselves.
I appreciate that my cancer was diagnosed early. That’s why I’m here. That’s why 9 years on I’m still here and every single day is a bonus to me.
Other rare symptoms
Some people have swollen fingers and nails, and pain and swelling in their joints. This condition is called hypertrophic pulmonary osteoarthropathy (HPOA).
Symptoms of advanced lung cancer
You might have other symptoms if you have advanced cancer.