Lung cancer

You are here: 

Signs and symptoms of lung cancer

A sign is something that can be observed and recognized by a doctor or healthcare professional (for example, a rash). A symptom is something that only the person experiencing it can feel and know (for example, pain or tiredness). The signs and symptoms of lung cancer can also be caused by other health conditions. It is important to have any unusual symptoms checked by a doctor.

Signs and symptoms of lung cancer include:

  • a cough that worsens or doesn’t go away
  • chest pain that is constant and 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
  • 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 cancer grows larger or spreads to other parts of the body, including other organs.

  • buildup of fluid around the lungs (pleural effusion)
  • bone pain
  • jaundicejaundiceA condition in which the skin and whites of the eyes become yellow and urine is dark yellow.
  • difficulty swallowing
  • superior vena cava syndrome
  • neurological changes
    • weakness
    • headache
    • numbness in a limb
    • dizziness
    • seizure
  • enlarged lymph nodes in the neck or above the collarbone

Paraneoplastic syndromes

A paraneoplastic syndrome is a group of symptoms that occurs when substances released by cancer cells affect the normal function of other organs or tissues. Small cell lung cancer causes paraneoplastic syndromes more often than non–small cell lung cancer (the most common type of lung cancer).

The paraneoplastic syndromes most often seen with non–small cell lung cancer 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 those 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


Dr Shawn Li I’m extremely grateful to the Canadian Cancer Society for funding my research with an Innovation Grant.

Read more

Advocating for cancer patients

Illustration of a bullhorn

Our staff and volunteers meet with elected officials from local, provincial and national governments to persuade them to make the fight against cancer one of their top priorities.

Learn more