Symptoms of lung cancer

Lung cancer doesn't always cause symptoms in its early stages. Many of the signs and symptoms can also be caused by other medical conditions but finding lung cancer early can mean that it's easier to treat. So if you notice any symptoms or changes get them checked out by your GP as soon as possible.  

The most common symptoms of lung cancer are:

  • having a new cough or a cough most of the time
  • getting out of breath doing the things you used to do without a problem
  • coughing up phlegm (sputum) with blood in it
  • having an ache or pain in the chest or shoulder
  • chest infections that keep coming back or a chest infection that doesn't get better
  • losing your appetite
  • feeling tired all the time (fatigue)
  • losing weight

In the video below, Gerard talks about the lung cancer symptoms he had. The video is 1 minute and 14 seconds long.

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.

Changes in the shape of your fingers and fingernails

Some people have swollen fingers and nails (finger clubbing). This is more common in non small cell lung cancer.

They may also have pain and swelling in their joints. This condition is called hypertrophic pulmonary osteoarthropathy (HPOA).

Hormone related symptoms

It is rare, but some types of lung cancer cells produce hormones that go into the bloodstream. These hormones can cause symptoms that don’t seem related to lung cancer. Doctors call them paraneoplastic syndrome. It is more common in small cell lung cancer.

These hormone symptoms might include:

  • feeling and being sick (nausea and vomiting)
  • headaches
  • confusion or trouble thinking clearly
  • feeling weak or tired
  • feeling restless or irritable
  • muscle weakness, spasms, cramps or aches
  • seizures or passing out
  • difficulty walking and climbing stairs
  • difficulty lifting objects or raising the arms
  • drooping eyelids, dry eyes and blurred vision
  • swallowing problems
  • dizziness when standing up
  • a dry mouth
  • constipation
  • not being able to get and maintain an erection (erectile dysfunction)
  • strength that temporarily improves when exercising, but then reduces as exercise continues

Pancoast tumours

A very rare type of 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. Pain might travel down the arm or up the head and neck.

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

Symptoms of metastatic lung cancer

You might have other symptoms if you have metastatic cancer.

  • Suspected cancer: recognition and referral
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), June 2015 (updated December 2021)

  • Lung cancer: diagnosis and management
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, March 2019 (updated September 2022)

  • Management of lung cancer
    Scottish Intercollegiate Guideline Network, 2014

  • Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology (11th edition)
    VT DeVita, TS Lawrence, SA Rosenberg
    Wolters Kluwer, 2019

  • Small cell lung cancer

    BMJ Best Practice

    Accessed December 2022

  • Non-small cell lung cancer

    BMJ Best Practice

    Accessed December 2022

  • The information on this page is based on literature searches and specialist checking. We used many references and there are too many to list here. If you need additional references for this information please contact with details of the particular risk or cause you are interested in.

Last reviewed: 
12 Dec 2022
Next review due: 
12 Dec 2025

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