Lung CancerLung Cancer Symptoms

Let's Talk About Lung Cancer Signs and Symptoms

Anytime you can spot cancer early, your odds of successful treatment go up—but in the case of lung cancer, that's a tall order. We asked the experts what red flags to look for when it comes to this disease.

    Our Pro PanelLung Cancer Signs and Symptoms

    We went to some of the nation's top experts in lung cancer to bring you the most up-to-date information possible.

    Jorge Gomez, M.D.

    Jorge Gomez, M.D.Medical Director of the Thoracic Oncology Program and World Trade Center Oncology Clinic

    Mount Sinai Hospital
    New York, NY
    Jacob Sands, M.D.

    Jacob Sands, M.D.Thoracic Medical Oncologist and Instructor in Medicine

    Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School
    Boston, MA
    Elisabeth Dexter, M.D.

    Elisabeth Dexter, M.D.Thoracic Surgeon and Quality Assurance Officer for the Department of Thoracic Surgery

    Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center
    Buffalo, NY

    Frequently Asked QuestionsLung Cancer Signs and Symptoms

    How easy is it to diagnose lung cancer?

    It’s a pretty straightforward diagnosis for your doctor, but for the average person, it’s tough. That’s because early stages of the disease have almost no clear symptoms, so many people overlook possible warning signs until the cancer is pretty advanced. About 80% of lung cancers are not diagnosed until stage III or IV.

    Do smokers have different symptoms than nonsmokers?

    No, both smokers and nonsmokers have similar lung cancer symptoms. But because people who smoke often develop a chronic cough, it can be difficult for them to tell the difference between their usual hacking and a cough caused by the cancer.

    What are paraneoplastic syndromes?

    In about 10% of lung cancer cases, people develop paraneoplastic syndromes. These are not caused by lung cancer itself, but rather by hormones, peptides, or cytokines produced by the cancer. Symptoms range from muscle weakness to fluid retention to abdominal pain.

    Why is shortness of breath a sign of lung cancer?

    When a tumor starts to grow in your lung, it cuts off the blood and oxygen supply to the remaining healthy lung tissue, making it harder for the lungs to do their job of passing that oxygen on to the rest of your body. This results in shortness of breath and fatigue.

    Holly Pevzner

    Holly Pevzner


    Holly Pevzner is a health writer whose work has appeared in many publications, including EatingWell and Prevention.