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Lung cancer health centre

Lung cancer - What are the symptoms of lung cancer?

BMJ Group Medical Reference

The most common symptoms of lung cancer are coughing and breathing problems. But you also get other illnesses that affect your lungs, such as colds, flu, asthma, and bronchitis.

Although your symptoms may start off seeming like a cold or flu, if you have lung cancer they won't get better. They won't be cured by remedies you can buy at a pharmacy or get from your doctor. You may also get much more worrying symptoms, such as coughing up blood.

You shouldn't ignore minor symptoms like coughing and breathlessness, especially if they go on longer than you would usually expect with a cold or chest infection. And remember: people who've never smoked can get lung cancer too. So it's important to get these symptoms checked out, even if you're a life-long non-smoker.

If you have lung cancer, you may get symptoms that are caused by the cancer in your lung. And if the cancer has spread, you may get symptoms caused by its effects on your chest or other parts of your body. Many people get both types of symptoms, although usually they get symptoms in the lung first.[17]

Symptoms from the cancer in your lung

  • Coughing: If you have lung cancer, you may get a cough that doesn't go away and gets worse over time. This happens when the cancer stops you getting enough air into your lungs.

  • Shortness of breath or wheezing: This may be due to a cold or flu. Or it may happen if you are getting more exercise than you're used to. But it may be a symptom of lung cancer. Again, the cancer is preventing you from getting enough air into your lungs.

  • Coughing up blood: This could be just a few spots on a tissue. Or there could be larger amounts. It may be caused by the tumour damaging your lung tissue. If you cough up blood you should see a doctor straight away.

  • Airway infections: Repeated chest infections, such as bronchitis and pneumonia, can happen when a tumour starts to block your airways. Fluid in your lungs becomes trapped and infected.

  • Fever: Lung cancer can cause a rise in body temperature.

Symptoms from cancer spreading into the lining of your lung

  • Pain in the chest: You may also get this with other conditions, such as indigestion or angina (chest pain caused by narrowing of blood vessels near your heart). But with lung cancer, the pain doesn't go away.

Symptoms from cancer spreading to other parts of your chest

  • Hoarseness when you speak: A tumour in your left lung could spread into the middle of your chest. When this happens, the nerve that goes to your voice box may be damaged. This can cause hoarseness.

  • Swallowing problems: This can happen if a tumour grows near the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach (oesophagus).

Last Updated: September 27, 2013
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.
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