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Lung Cancer Symptoms

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.

Symptoms of metastatic cancer depend on the extent and location of the cancer spread. About 30-40% of people with lung cancer have some symptoms or signs of metastatic disease.

  • Lung cancer most often spreads to the liver, the bones, and the brain.
  • Metastatic lung cancer in the liver may cause yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), but it may not cause any noticeable symptoms at the time of diagnosis.
  • Lung cancer that has metastasized to the bone causes bone pain, usually in the bones of the spine (vertebrae), the thigh bones, and the ribs.
  • Lung cancer that spreads to the brain can cause difficulties with vision, weakness on one side of the body, and/or seizures.

Paraneoplastic syndromes are the remote, indirect effects of cancer not related to direct invasion. Symptoms include the following:

  • New bone formation (particularly in the fingertips) that can be painful
  • High levels of calcium in the blood
  • Blood clots
  • Low sodium levels in the blood

 

WebMD Medical Reference from eMedicineHealth

Reviewed by Sujana Movva, MD on March 02, 2014
Edited on August 10, 2005

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