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Symptoms of lung NETs

Up to half of people with lung neuroendocrine tumours (NETs) do not have any symptoms at diagnosis. Doctors often diagnose a lung NET when doing tests for something else.

When you do have symptoms, they can be caused by the cancer itself or by hormones made by the cancer.

These symptoms could be due to a lung NET but can also be caused by other medical conditions. It’s important to get them checked by your doctor.

Symptoms caused by the cancer itself

Symptoms might include:

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. 

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. See your doctor straight away if this happens. Coughing up blood is called haemoptysis.

Being short of breath

You might get out of breath doing the things you used to do. Doctors call this dyspnoea.

An ache or pain in the chest

You might have pain in your chest or shoulder. It could be a dull ache or a sharper pain.

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.

Feeling tired (fatigue)

You might feel very tired a lot of the time.

Losing weight

You might lose a lot of weight quickly when you are not dieting.

Symptoms caused by hormones

Some types of lung NETs make hormones that go into the bloodstream. Doctors call these functioning tumours. These hormones can cause symptoms that don’t seem related to the cancer. The symptoms might include:

Flushing of the skin

The skin of your face, neck and chest may look red (flushed).

Diarrhoea

Diarrhoea means having more than 3 watery poos (stools) in a 24 hour period. You might also have diarrhoea at night and problems controlling your bowels (incontinence).

Wheezing

Wheezing is a whistling sound when you breathe.

Fast heartbeat

You may feel that your heart is beating very quickly. This can make you feel dizzy, breathless and tired.

Doctors call this collection of symptoms carcinoid syndrome. It is more likely to happen if the lung NET has spread to other parts of the body, especially the liver.

When to see your doctor

You should see your doctor if you have any of these symptoms.
Last reviewed: 
14 May 2018
  • Pulmonary neuroendocrine (carcinoid) tumors: European Neuroendocrine Tumor Society expert consensus and recommendations for best practice for typical and atypical pulmonary carcinoids 
    M E Caplin and others
    Annals of Oncology, 2015, Vol 26, Issue 8, Pages 1604-1620

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

  • Challenges in the diagnosis and management of well differentiated neuroendocrine tumors of the lung (typical and atypical carcinoid): current status and future considerations
    E M Wolin
    The Oncologist, 2015. Vol 20, Issue 10, Pages 1123-1131

  • Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology (10th edition)
    VT DeVita, TS Lawrence, SA Rosenberg 
    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2015

  • 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. Please contact patientinformation@cancer.org.uk with details of the particular issue you are interested in if you need additional references for this information

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