Six Early Signs of Lung Cancer

Medically Reviewed on 7/27/2022

What are the early signs of lung cancer?

Signs of Lung Cancer
Six early signs of lung cancer include a new cough that persists for several weeks and goes on worsening, persistent shortness of breath, chest pain, and more.

Lung cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States. It may not show its signs and symptoms in its early stages. Signs and symptoms typically appear in the advanced stage of the disease.

When people experience signs and symptoms of lung cancer, the early ones may include any of the following:

  1. A new cough that persists for several weeks and goes on worsening
  2. Hemoptysis (coughing up blood or specs of blood)
  3. Persistent shortness of breath
  4. Chest pain
  5. Hoarseness of voice
  6. Recurrent chest infections (such as pneumonia)

When lung cancer progresses to the later stages, other signs and symptoms develop:

  1. Unintended weight loss
  2. Loss of appetite
  3. Fatigue
  4. Bone pain
  5. Dizziness
  6. Headache

Is there any screening test for lung cancer?

Screening test for a particular disease means testing when there are no complaints or history of that disease.

People with an increased risk of lung cancer may ask their doctor if they can go for an annual lung cancer screening. The screening test typically includes a low-dose computed tomography (CT) scan.

Doctors can offer lung cancer screening tests to you if:

  • You are a chronic smoker or have smoked heavily in the past
  • You are between 55-80 years of age
  • You have quit smoking in the past 15 years
  • You have a family history of cancers

Ask your doctor whether you are at a high risk of getting cancer. Your doctor can work with you to decide if a screening test is right for you.

What puts you at an increased risk for lung cancer?

The things that put you at risk for lung cancer are known as risk factors. You can reduce your risk for lung cancer by making lifestyle changes (such as quitting smoking). However, you cannot do much if you have a family history of lung cancer.

The most common risk factors for lung cancer include the following:

  • Smoking: Higher the number of cigarettes you smoke each day and the number of years you have smoked, the higher the risk of lung cancer.
  • Second-hand smoking: Exposure to second-hand smoking increases your risk of getting lung cancer by 20%-30%.

Other risk factors include...

What tests are used to diagnose lung cancer?

If your doctor suspects that you may have lung cancer, they can order a variety of tests to look for cancerous changes and to rule out other conditions.

There are various tests that help diagnose cancer:

  • Imaging tests: Imaging tests, such as X-rays of your chest, can show an abnormal mass suspicious of lung cancer. Other ones like computed tomography (CT) scans may show much smaller masses that the X-rays might have failed to show.
  • Sputum cytology: Your doctor may order a sputum test in which your sputum will be examined under a microscope to look for the presence of cancerous cells.
  • Biopsy: This is a minor surgical procedure in which a sample of abnormal cells is removed. This can be done in any of the various ways:
    • Bronchoscopy (a long lighted tube is passed down your throat and into your lungs)
    • Mediastinoscopy (an incision is made at the base of your neck and surgical tools are inserted to take tissue samples from lymph nodes)
    • Needle biopsy (use of X-ray or CT images to guide a needle through your chest wall and into the lung tissue to collect tissue samples)

How can you prevent lung cancer?

There is no sure way that you can use to prevent lung cancer. However, you can help lower your risk:

Other changes like eating plenty of fruits and vegetables daily and staying physically active most days of the week will help you remain healthy for the longer term. This may help you stay protected not only from lung cancer but also from all other types of cancer.


Lung Cancer: Early Signs, Symptoms, Stages See Slideshow
Medically Reviewed on 7/27/2022
Tan, W.W. "Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC)." May 20, 2022. Medscape. <>.

United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Division of Cancer Prevention and Control. "Basic Information About Lung Cancer." June 6, 2022. <>.