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Identifying the 8 Early Signs of Lung Cancer

In its early stages, lung cancer is known for being almost asymptomatic. In fact, due to the fact that there are no noticeable symptoms, many people do not get diagnosed until the disease has already reached an advanced stage. Here are some ways of identifying the early signs of lung cancer. Remember that the earlier lung cancer is detected, the faster you can begin treatment, increasing the chances of recovery.

Identifying the 8 Early Signs of Lung Cancer

Identifying the 8 Early Signs of Lung Cancer

Symptom 1: Persistent Cough

One of the first signs of lung cancer that usually people tend to dismiss is a new cough that tends to persist. If you have a cough due to the common cold or a respiratory infection, then it will go away on its own within a week or two. However, if it is an early warning sign of lung cancer, then this persistent cough will tend to linger.

This is why it is essential that you do not dismiss a persistent cough, regardless of whether it is a dry cough or it produces mucus.(1)

In such a case, you must see your doctor so that they may carry out a physical examination, listen to your lungs, and order whatever diagnostic tests are required, such as an X-ray or other tests.

Symptom 2: Change in Coughing Pattern

If you have a chronic cough, especially in the case of smokers, then it is vital to pay attention to any changes in the pattern of coughing. For example, if your cough sounds hoarse or deeper, or if you are coughing more frequently, or if you have an increased amount of mucus or coughing up blood. All these are signs that your coughing pattern has changed. In such cases, it is essential to consult your doctor at the earliest.

Symptom 3: Pain in the Chest

Lung cancer sometimes causes pain in the chest region, back, or around the shoulders. It is important to note, though, that this aching feeling is not associated with coughing. Many people, especially if you have a smoker’s cough, often feel pain in the chest area from persistent coughing.
If you notice any type of pain in these areas, you must let your doctor know. This type of pain could be sharp, consistent, intermittent, or dull. It is also important to note whether this pain is limited only to a specific part or occurring throughout the chest. When chest pain is caused by lung cancer, the discomfort is usually caused by inflamed lymph nodes or due to metastasis to the chest wall, the ribs, or in the lining of the lungs.(2,3)

Symptom 4: Changes in Breathing

Easily becoming out of breath or experiencing shortness of breath even while not doing any activity can also be possible early signs of lung cancer. Changes in breathing are common early symptoms of lung cancer. This happens if the cancerous cells start to block or restrict the airway, or if fluid leaking from a lung tumor starts accumulating in the chest.(4)

If you feel short of breath or winded, then you must make a note of this. For example, if doing simple tasks like climbing stairs or even walking at a reasonable pace makes you feel out of breath, then don’t ignore these signs and consult a doctor.

Symptom 5: Unexplained Weight Loss

Any unexplained loss of weight of 10 pounds or more could also be an early sign of lung cancer or another type of cancer.(5) In cases of cancer, this sudden and unexplained drop in weight is caused by the cancer cells using the energy of your body. This could also be a result of the changes that occur in the manner in which your body uses energy from food when you have cancer.

If you have not been trying to lose weight, then any sudden changes in weight should never be ignored. It could be a sign of cancer.

Symptom 6: Wheezing

Another common early sign of lung cancer is wheezing. The lungs start producing a wheezing or whistling kind of sound when you breathe. This happens because the airways become inflamed or blocked due to the cancer cells.

However, wheezing can also be a symptom of several other conditions, some of which are treatable and benign.

Nevertheless, there is still a possibility that wheezing could be a symptom of lung cancer, which is why it should be brought to your doctor’s notice. Even if you have allergies or asthma, don’t merely assume that the wheezing is happening due to these underlying conditions. It is always better to have a doctor confirm the cause.

Symptom 7: Headache

Headaches are a common sign that most people tend to dismiss. However, headaches as an early lung cancer sign could indicate that the lung cancer has spread to the brain. Of course, not all headaches are linked to brain tumors and cancer.

In some cases, a lung tumor might be putting pressure on the superior vena cava, which is the large vein responsible for transporting blood from the upper part of the body to the heart. This pressure may also cause headaches or even migraines in the more severe cases.

Symptom 8: Bone Pain

Lung cancer that has spread to the bones may cause you to feel pain in the back or other parts of the body. This pain is likely to worsen at night when you are resting on your back.

Most people ignore this early sign of lung cancer because it is indeed tricky to differentiate between normal muscle ache and bone pain. One way you can differentiate is by noticing if the pain worsens at night and increases with activity or movement.

Lung cancer is sometimes also linked with arm, neck, and shoulder pain, though this is less common. It is always better to be attentive to what your body is telling you. Make sure to discuss any aches and pains with your doctor.

Can Early Diagnosis Help Manage Lung Cancer Better?

If you pay attention to these early signs of lung cancer, then it is easier to have a diagnosis before your cancer reaches an advanced stage.

While chest X-rays are not very useful in detecting early-stage lung cancer, however, according to a study by the National Lung Screening Trial Research Team in 2011, low dose CT scans can detect early-stage lung cancer, thus reducing lung cancer mortality by almost 20 percent.(6)

In this study, over 53,000 people at high risk for lung cancer were randomly given either an X-ray or a low dose CT scan. The research team found that the low dose CT scans were successful at detecting more cases of lung cancer. The study also found dramatically fewer deaths from lung cancer in the group that was diagnosed earlier through a low dose CT scan.


If you are experiencing any of the early signs associated with lung cancer, then you should make it a point to consult your doctor. In most cases of people with lung cancer, the diagnosis of the disease is made after cancer has also reached an advanced stage, or stage 3. Receiving a low dose CT scan when you are only experiencing these early symptoms could prove to be highly beneficial to saving more lives.


  1. Molassiotis, A., Smith, J.A., Bennett, M.I., Blackhall, F., Taylor, D., Zavery, B., Harle, A., Booton, R., Rankin, E.M., Lloyd-Williams, M. and Morice, A.H., 2010. Clinical expert guidelines for the management of cough in lung cancer: report of a UK task group on cough. Cough, 6(1), p.9.
  2. Buccheri, G. and Ferrigno, D., 2004. Lung cancer: clinical presentation and specialist referral time. European Respiratory Journal, 24(6), pp.898-904.
  3. McCaughan, B.C., Martini, N., Bains, M.S. and McCormack, P.M., 1985. Chest wall invasion in carcinoma of the lung: therapeutic and prognostic implications. The Journal of thoracic and cardiovascular surgery, 89(6), pp.836-841.
  4. Corner, J., Hopkinson, J., Fitzsimmons, D., Barclay, S. and Muers, M., 2005. Is late diagnosis of lung cancer inevitable? Interview study of patients’ recollections of symptoms before diagnosis. Thorax, 60(4), pp.314-319.
  5. Cancer.org. 2020. Signs And Symptoms Of Cancer | Do I Have Cancer?. [online] Available at: <https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-basics/signs-and-symptoms-of-cancer.html> [Accessed 30 March 2020].
  6. National Lung Screening Trial Research Team, 2011. Reduced lung-cancer mortality with low-dose computed tomographic screening. New England Journal of Medicine, 365(5), pp.395-409.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:February 1, 2021

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