Lung cancer symptoms

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
A cough is also a symptom of coronavirus. It is still important to contact your GP if you have a new or worsening cough. They can speak to you over the phone or by a video call and arrange for tests if you need them.

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

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, 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.

Symptoms of advanced lung cancer

You might have other symptoms if you have advanced cancer.

This video explains the importance of going to your GP if you notice any possible cancer symptoms. It lasts for 42 seconds.

Last reviewed: 
12 Sep 2019