Lung cancer

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Symptoms of lung cancer

Lung cancer may not cause any signs or symptoms in its early stages. Signs and symptoms often appear as the tumour grows and causes changes in the body such as a cough or shortness of breath. Other health conditions can cause the same symptoms as lung cancer.

Signs and symptoms are the same for small cell lung cancer and non–small cell lung cancer. They include:

  • a cough that gets worse or doesn’t go away
  • shortness of breath
  • wheezing
  • chest pain that is always felt and gets worse with deep breathing or coughing
  • blood in mucus coughed up from the lungs
  • chest infections like bronchitis or pneumonia that don’t get better or keep coming back
  • weight loss
  • fatigue
  • hoarseness or other voice changes
  • difficulty swallowing
  • collapsed lung
  • larger than normal lymph nodes in the neck or above the collarbone
  • buildup of fluid around the lungs (pleural effusion)
  • bone pain
  • headache
  • weakness

Horner syndrome is a group of symptoms that may be a sign of lung cancer that is growing into the nerves found at the top of the lung. It is almost always caused by a non–small cell lung cancer. Symptoms include:

  • severe shoulder pain
  • drooping or weakness of the eyelid or a smaller pupil in the eye
  • very little or no sweating on the same side of the face as the eye with the eyelid or pupil changes

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 is more likely than non–small lung cancer to cause paraneoplastic syndromes.

Hypercalcemia means there is too much calcium in the blood. Squamous cell carcinoma is the type of non–small cell lung cancer that most often causes hypercalcemia. The signs and symptoms of hypercalcemia include weakness, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, increased thirst and frequent urination and confusion, disorientation and difficulty thinking.


Syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone (SIADH) is when the body makes too much antidiuretic hormone (ADH). Symptoms of SIADH include muscle weakness and cramping, restlessness, confusion, fatigue, nausea and vomiting.

Cushing syndrome is when the body makes high amounts of corticosteroids. Symptoms of Cushing syndrome include high blood pressure, high blood sugar, a round face with thin arms and legs, and muscle weakness. It may also cause weight gain that causes purple marks on the stomach.

Lambert-Eaton syndrome is caused by the lack of a chemical that transmits messages between muscles and nerves. Symptoms of Lambert-Eaton syndrome include muscle weakness, loss of movement and difficulty chewing, climbing stairs or lifting objects.

Paraneoplastic cerebellar degeneration is a very rare paraneoplastic syndrome. It is caused when the body’s immune system has an abnormal reaction and attacks the cells of the central nervous system. Symptoms of this disorder include dizziness, nausea, loss of balance, blurred vision, rapid eye movements, problems with speaking or swallowing and shaking (tremors).

Find out more about hypercalcemia and syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone (SIADH).

Medical emergency caused by lung cancer

In some cases, lung cancer or its treatment can cause serious problems that should be treated right away. Superior vena cava syndrome occurs when the cancer obstructs the large vein (superior vena cava) that returns blood from the head and arms, resulting in headache and swelling of the head and neck. If you get these symptoms, see your doctor or healthcare team as soon as possible.


Any steroid hormone that acts as an anti-inflammatory by reducing swelling and lowering the body’s immune response (the immune system’s reaction to the presence of foreign substances).

Corticosteroids are made by the adrenal gland. They can also be produced in the lab.


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