One fourth of all people with lung cancer have no symptoms when the cancer is diagnosed. These cancers are usually identified incidentally when a chest X-ray is performed for another reason. The other three-fourths of people develop some symptoms. The symptoms are due to direct effects of the primary tumor; to effects of cancer spread to other parts of the body (metastases); or to disturbances of hormones, blood, or other systems.
Symptoms of lung cancer include cough, coughing up blood or rusty-colored phlegm, fatigue, unexplained weight loss, recurrent respiratory infections, hoarseness, new wheezing, and shortness of breath.
- A new cough in a smoker or a former smoker should raise concern for lung cancer.
- A cough that does not go away or gets worse over time should be evaluated by a health care provider.
- Coughing up blood (hemoptysis) occurs in a significant number of people who have lung cancer. Any amount of coughed-up blood should be evaluated by a health care provider.
- Pain in the chest area is a symptom in about one fourth of people with lung cancer. The pain is dull, aching, and persistent.
- Shortness of breath usually results from a blockage in part of the lung, collection of fluid around the lung (pleural effusion), or the spread of tumor through the lungs.
- Wheezing or hoarseness may signal blockage or inflammation in the lungs that may go along with cancer.
- Repeated respiratory infections, such as bronchitis or pneumonia, can be a sign of lung cancer.