Signs & Symptoms

Diagnosing lung cancer can be challenging because your physician must assess the signs and symptoms and rule out other potential health issues before making a cancer diagnosis.

A sign is something that can be observed and assessed by others and a symptom is something that only the person experiencing can feel and know. Assessing a patient’s signs and symptoms is the first step towards diagnosis. Signs and symptoms of lung cancer can include:

  • a cough that worsens or doesn’t go away
  • a constant chest pain that is made worse by deep breathing or coughing
  • blood-stained sputum (mucus and other matter coughed up from the lungs)
  • shortness of breath
  • wheezing
  • frequent chest infections (bronchitis or pneumonia)
  • fatigue
  • hoarseness
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • collapsed lung (pneumothorax)
  • severe shoulder pain
    • caused by a superior sulcus tumour pressing on a nerve

Horner’s syndrome

  • severe shoulder pain
  • problems in one eye
    • drooping or weakness of the eyelid
    • smaller pupil
    • reduced or absent perspiration on the same side of the face as the affected eye

Late signs and symptoms

Late signs and symptoms occur as the lung cancer spreads to other regions of the body, including
other organs:

  • buildup of fluid around the lungs
  • bone pain
  • jaundice
  • difficulty swallowing
  • superior vena cava syndromes
  • enlarged lymph nodes in the neck or above the collarbone
  • neurological changes
    • weakness
    • headache
    • numbness in a limb
    • dizziness
    • seizure

Paraneoplastic syndromes

A paraneoplastic syndrome is a group of symptoms that occurs when substances released by cancer cells affect the normal functioning of other organs or tissues. SCLC causes paraneoplastic syndromes more often than NSCLC.

The paraneoplastic syndromes most often seen with NSCLC are:

hypercalcemia – especially in squamous cell lung cancer

  • Hypercalcemia is a condition in which the amount of calcium in the blood is higher than normal.
  • Signs and symptoms include:
    • weakness
    • lack of coordination
    • changes in mental function
    • high blood pressure
    • nausea and vomiting

Hypertrophic osteoarthropathy 

Signs and symptoms include:

  • increased and sometimes painful growth of some bones, especially in the fingertips
  • finger clubbing (a change in the shape of the nail bed that can occur in both fingers and toes)
  • pain and swelling of bones and joints


[10] Information taken from the Canadian Cancer Society