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 cough most of the time
- having a change in a cough you have had for a long time - it may sound different or be painful when you cough
- 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
There are a number of symptoms of lung cancer but they can also all be caused by much less serious conditions. These symptoms include:
- having a cough that won’t go away or a change in a cough you have had for a long time
- being short of breath
- coughing up phlegm with signs of blood in it
- chest or shoulder pain when breathing or coughing
- loss of appetite or unexplained tiredness or weight loss
If you think you have any of these symptoms go and see your doctor. If lung cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, treatment is more likely to be successful.
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.
Less common or rare symptoms
Some people have swollen fingers and nails (finger clubbing). 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 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 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, 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 cancer story: Anne's diagnosis
In this video Anne tells her story about her diagnosis. The video is 2 minutes long.
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.
Symptoms of advanced lung cancer
You might have other symptoms if you have advanced cancer.