Image of man holding his chest

Signs & symptoms

Stages and symptoms

Symptoms can vary based on the severity of a person’s lung cancer. In earlier stages, where the cancer is still very small in size and has not spread to deeper lung tissue or outside the lung, symptoms may be confined to lung-related functions. In later stages, where the cancer has spread throughout the body, it may affect other organs like the liver or the brain.

Early Stages
Late Stages
  • A cough that does not go away or one that gets worse
  • Coughing up blood or rust-coloured sputum (spit or phlegm)
  • A chest pain that worsens with deep breathing, coughing or laughing
  • Hoarseness
  • Weight loss and loss of appetite
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tiredness or weakness
  • Recurrent infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia
  • Bone pain in areas like the back and hips
  • Skin and the whites of the eyes that turn yellow, indicating that the cancer has reached the liver
  • Headaches, numbness in the arms or legs, balance problems, dizziness and other changes to the brain.


Lung cancer can also cause some very specific syndromes such as:

Image of man in pain holding his shoulder

Horner Syndrome, when cancer at the top part of the lungs (Pancoast tumours) cause symptoms like drooping of one eye, a smaller pupil in that eye and sometimes, severe shoulder pain

Image of woman having a headache with hands on her temples

Superior Vena Cava (SVC) Syndrome happens when tumours in the right lung press on this vein (located next to the upper part of the lung), causing blood to back up. When this happens, the patient could suffer headaches, dizziness, loss of consciousness, swelling in the face, neck, arms and upper chest, and the skin in these areas may turn blue.

Image of arm with black bruises

Paraneoplastic Syndromes sometimes occur when there is a tumour and the body responds by secreting a hormone or cytokine as an immune response, causing problems that look nothing like cancer. One example is Cushing Syndrome. The cancer cells make a hormone that causes the adrenal glands to secrete cortisol, causing weight gain, fluid retention, drowsiness, bruising easily, and sometimes diabetes and high blood pressure. Paraneoplastic Syndromes sometimes make it hard for lung cancer to be diagnosed early.

American Cancer Society: Signs and Symptoms of Lung Cancer.
Retrieved Nov 2017 from; American Cancer Society: Lung Cancer: Three main types of lung cancer.
Retrieved Nov 2017 from