Symptoms of lung cancer may not appear until more advanced stages.
For many health conditions, people first know something is wrong when they start having symptoms. This is not always the case with cancer. Symptoms of lung cancer, for example, may not appear until the cancer is spreading or worsening. Some people do have symptoms at early stages of lung cancer, but many do not.
Symptoms of Lung Cancer
For people who do have signs of lung cancer at earlier stages, here are the most common, according to the American Cancer Society:
- Persistent or worsening cough
- Blood in phlegm
- Chest pain
- Hoarseness or wheezing
- Reduced appetite and weight loss
- Shortness of breath
- Fatigue and weakness
- Frequent infections (like bronchitis and pneumonia)
Just because you have some of these early symptoms doesn't necessarily mean you have cancer. Some of these symptoms may stem from more common, less serious conditions. A number of lung issues can cause cough and shortness of breath, for example. That's why it's important to talk to your doctor to get an accurate diagnosis.
As lung cancer progresses, it may cause additional symptoms in the body. This includes bone pain, swollen lymph nodes around the neck, and yellowing of the skin and eyes. These symptoms can vary depending on where the cancer is spreading.
Diagnosing Lung Cancer Early
Lung cancer treatment is more likely to be successful when you catch it at an early stage. Since not everyone has symptoms at these early stages, screening can play an important role in lung cancer detection. Learn more about the importance of catching lung cancer early here.
Doctors recommend screening only for people who are at a high risk of developing lung cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This includes people who:
- Have a history of smoking heavily (a pack a day)
- Currently smoke, or have quit fewer than 15 years ago
- Are between the ages of 55 and 80
To learn more about your risk of lung cancer, talk to your doctor. They can go over your risk factors, provide tips for quitting smoking, or let you know if lung cancer screening is right for you.
Stefan Balan, MD, is an oncologist at RWJBarnabas Health in Jersey City, NJ.