Lung Cancer Symptoms

What Is Lung Cancer?

Lung cancer occurs when cells of the lungs start to grow at an uncontrollable rate [1]. It can begin in the lungs but spread through to the lymph nodes or other organs. Cancer in other organs can also spread to the lungs. This type of cancer is the leading cause of death by cancer across the world. It can be harder to diagnose in the early stages, which can impact survival rates.

Types of Lung Cancer

There are two main types of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC) [2].

SCLC occurs in two main ways: combined small cell carcinoma or small cell carcinoma [3]. It tends to grow fast than NSCLC, and 10-15% of all lung cancers are this type. It is also known commonly as oat cell cancer. It is mostly associated with cigarette smoking. Treatment might include chemotherapy.

There are three types of NSCLC cancers

  • Adenocarcinoma
  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Large cell carcinoma

Adenocarcinoma is a non-small cell form of lung cancer that develops in the outer region of the lungs. It develops in epithelial tissues.

Squamous cell carcinoma is a non-small cell form of lung cancer detected in the middle of the lungs near the bronchus (air tube). Large cell carcinoma is a non-small cell form of lung cancer that can occur in any area of the lung. It can grow quickly and spread faster than the other types of NSCLS cancers.

Pancoast tumors can also grow in the upper region of the lung and even impact the structure around it. They are quite rare and usually come under SCLC cancers. Carcinoid tumors are also rare and grow slower than other cancer types.

How is Lung Cancer Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of lung cancer can differ depending on the patient. The medical team usually chooses the tests for lung cancer diagnosis. The medical history, symptoms, and findings from prevision tests and physical exams are a part of this [4].

You might take blood tests to rule out other possible problems, such as infections. Diagnosis for lung cancer can take place through [5]:

  • X-ray of chest
  • CT scan
  • PET-CT Scan
  • Biopsy
  • Bronchoscopy

Lung Cancer Staging

The second step after diagnosis is staging. Tissue samples and tests help determine the stage, which can help create a treatment plan for the patient. The size of a tumor and its area of spread help discover the stage. There are five stages of cancer, from 0 to 4. The higher the stage of cancer, the more the tumor has spread.

TNM scale classification helps during staging [6], which is as follows:

  • T= Tumor size (measured in centimeters)
  • N= Number of lymph nodes nearby with cancer
  • M= Whether the lung cancer has metastasized to other organs

To test the stage of cancer, the doctor may recommend some imaging procedures such as MRI, CT, PET scan, and bone scans.

Is Lung Cancer Hereditary?

Some inherited genetic mutations can increase the risk of lung cancer, especially the small cell type [7]. However, they are also more likely to respond to treatment, such as chemotherapy. This is because such cancer cells do not have the ability to repair the damaged DNA.

Lung Cancer Symptoms

Different patients might have different symptoms and signs of lung cancer. Some may not experience any at all. If you are genetically predisposed or at high risk for lung cancer, you should get regular checkups even if you do not experience any symptoms.

What Are the Symptoms of Lung Cancer?

Symptoms of lung cancer could include [8]:

  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing that isn’t going away or getting worse
  • Coughing up blood
  • Weight loss with no apparent reason
  • Persistent bouts of pneumonia or bronchitis
  • Swelling of neck or face
  • Changes in the shape and appearance of fingers

Patients may experience a mixture of these symptoms, so it is important to get them checked immediately.

If cancer spreads to other parts of the body, there are additional symptoms, such as [9]:

  • Bone pain
  • Changes in the nervous system
  • Jaundice (yellowing of eyes and skin)
  • Swelling of lymph nodes

What Are Some Signs of Lung Cancer?

As mentioned, signs refer to clinical manifestations; something that could be noticed during medical tests or examinations. Some early signs of lung cancer could include:

  • Hoarse voice
  • Shortness of breath
  • Consistent lethargy or fatigue
  • Loss of appetite

Symptoms of Lung Cancer in Women Vs. Symptoms of Lung Cancer in Men*

The life experiences and causes of men and women can be different since some lung cancers are more common among men [10]. Generally, the symptoms are similar for both, men and women. More men get lung cancer annually; there is a correlation between this and the increased rate of smoking among men. Women who smoke are 13 times more at risk for lung cancer, while men who smoke are 23 times more at risk for lung cancer.

*Note that here, we are using the terms “women” and “men” to refer to female and male biological sex at birth, respectively.

Risk Factors for Lung Cancer

The biggest risk factor for lung cancer is smoking. 80% of deaths that occur from lung cancer are a direct result of smoking, which is even higher for SCLC types [11]. SCLC cancers are quite rare for non-smokers. Even with second-hand smoke, the risk of lung cancer is greater. It is the third-most common reason for lung cancer.

Other risk factors for lung cancer can include [12]:

  • Family history
  • Exposure to radiation
  • Exposure to radon
  • Exposure to asbestos, diesel exhaust, and arsenic
  • Some foods [13]

Lung Cancer Prevention

There are some steps that you can take to prevent lung cancer or reduce risk, including [14]:

  • Quit smoking: You can ask your doctor for some strategies to quit smoking. They might recommend medication, nicotine replacement items, and counseling.
  • Avoid second-hand smoke
  • Get the house tested for radon
  • Follow workplace health and safety guidelines to avoid carcinogens

Lung Cancer Prognosis and Treatment

The prognosis for lung cancer is highly dependent on the stage and type of lung cancer. In general, lung cancers caught at earlier stages (stage 0/in situ, stage 1) have a better outlook. If the cancer has metastasized, treatment is more difficult, but it is important to maintain hope.

Lung Cancer Survival Rate

The 5-year survival rate for lung cancer is 18.6%, which is lower than many other cancer types [15]. The 5-year survival rate for lung cancer that hasn’t metastasized and is still localized is 56%. Since diagnosis for only 16% of lung cancers occurs at early stages, it can be hard to treat. Over 50% of patients with lung cancer die within a year of diagnosis.

Lung Cancer Treatment Options

The treatment plan for lung cancer depends on:

  • The position and size of the cancer
  • Stage of cancer
  • General health and age
  • Type of lung cancer

The first type of treatment is surgery. It can include lobectomy, pneumonectomy, or segmentectomy and wedge restriction [16]. Some patients feel concerned about getting some or all of a lung removed, but it is possible to breathe normally with one lung.

Radiation therapy for lung cancer is where high-energy rays destroy cancerous cells and slow down their spread [17]. Eternal radiation sends precise high-level radiation to the target cells. It is also called external beam therapy.

Doctors may also recommend immunotherapy. The medication strengthens the natural immune system to attack cancerous cells and destroy them.



Lung cancer is a common type of cancer that predominantly affects smokers. To reduce the risk of lung cancer, it is important to quit smoking. If you experience symptoms of lung cancer, you should immediately seek an appointment with a doctor.