What Are The First Signs Of Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is one of the leading causes of mortality across the world. Early diagnosis of lung cancers based on the initial warning symptoms is considered acritical factor that could reduce the risk of mortality.  Hence, there is a need to be aware of the first signs of lung cancer.

Here is a brief discussion about the sign and symptoms of lung cancers.

What are the initial warning signs of lung cancers?

Most patients with lung cancer do not develop any symptoms until the cancer mass has spread. However, some patients with early lung cancer may have a few non-specific as well as specific symptoms.

Seeking early medical attention when you first notice these symptoms could help your condition get diagnosed at an earlier phase when the treatment is more likely to be effective for supporting complete recovery by limiting the growth and spread of the cancer cells.

The most common signs and symptoms of lung cancer include:

  • A persistent cough that gets worse or does not go away
  • Coughing up of rust-colored sputum (phlegm or spit) or blood
  • Hoarseness of voice
  • Chest pain that tends to become worse during coughing, deep breathing, and laughing
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • New onset of symptoms like wheezing in the chest
  • Shortness of breath
  • Repeated infections such as pneumonia and bronchitis that keep coming back or do not go away
  • Feeling too tired and weak

Most of these symptoms are likely to be caused by conditions other than lung cancer. Yet, if you have any of these symptoms, it is important to visit a doctor at the earliest so that the underlying conditions can be detected and the appropriate treatment for the same can be started, if needed.

When the lung cancer spreads to the other organs and tissues of the body, it may causesymptoms linked to those parts such as:

  • Bone pains such as the pain and discomfort in the hips and back
  • Abnormal changes in the nervous system causing headaches, weakness in the arms and legs, numbness and tingling in the arms and legs, dizziness, difficulty in maintaining balance, and seizures. These symptoms can occur when the cancer spreads to the brain.
  • Jaundice (yellowish discolorationof the skin, nails, and eyes) when the cancer spreads to the liver.
  • Enlargement and swelling of lymph nodes such as those above the collarbone and in the neck

Our AARC Approved Live Respiratory Webinars are aimed at providing detailed information about the initial warning signs of lung cancers including the symptoms that can occur due to the spread of the cancer to the other organs.

Some forms of lung cancers cause syndromes that are grouped into specific symptoms as given below:

Superior vena cava syndrome

The superior vena cava is a large vein, which carries blood from the tissues of the arms and head to the heart. This vein passes through the upper part of the right lung and even the lymph nodes in the chest.

The development of lung cancer in this part could result in the compression of the superior vena cava causing the blood to back up into the veins. This can cause swelling in the face, arms, neck, and upper chest resulting in a bluish-red appearance of the skin.

It can also cause other symptoms such as headaches, a change in consciousness, and dizziness, especially if it has affected the brain.

Although superior vena cava syndrome tends to develop slowly over time, in some patients, it could lead to life-threatening complications and hence, needs to be detected and treated at the earlier stage.

Horner syndrome

The cancer affecting the upper part of the lungs is sometimes called the Pancoasttumor. These tumors are more likely to be the NSCLC (non-small cell lung cancer) than SCLC (small cell lung cancer).

Pancoasttumors often affect the nerves of the eyes and a part of the face, resulting in a group of symptoms known as Horner syndrome.

The symptoms of this syndrome may include:

  • Weakness and drooping of one upper eyelid
  • Reduced sweating or complete absence of sweating on the affected side of the face
  • A reduction in the size of the pupil (the dark part at the center of the eye) in the affected eye
  • Severe pain in the shoulder

You can attend our Respiratory Disease & Care Webinar to learn more about the symptoms of Pancoasttumors and the other signs that may accompany other forms of lung cancers.

Paraneoplastic syndromes

Some pulmonary cancers produce hormone-like substances, which enter the blood circulation and affect the health and functioning of the distant organs, even when the cancer has not actually spread to those tissues. These complications are referred to as paraneoplastic syndromes.

These syndromes may sometimes become evident as the initial symptoms of lung cancer. As these symptoms affect the organs other than the lungs, the condition is likely to be misdiagnosed.

Paraneoplastic syndromes may occur with any form of lung cancer, though they are more commonly associated with SCLC.

Some common syndromes include:

  • SIADH (syndrome of inappropriate anti-diuretic hormone), in which the cancer cells secrete a hormone known as ADH (antidiuretic hormone) that causes the kidneys to retain more water.
  • Cushing syndrome, a condition in which the cancer cells produce ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone) causing the adrenal glands to secretemore cortisol.
  • Blood clots
  • A high level of calcium in the blood


Most of these early warning symptoms of lung cancers tend to be non-specific. Some of these symptoms are also more likely to be caused due to a condition other than the lung cancer. Hence, it is important to exercise caution and seek medical attention if you develop any signs that may or may not seem related to the lungs.

Doctors and other healthcare professionals can attend our online respiratory webinars to learn the latest guidelines about the treatment of different forms of lung cancers and the most effective ways to detect them at the earlier stages.