9 Possible Early Signs of Lung Cancer

Knowing how to catch lung cancer early can be difficult. Lung cancer may not always produce noticeable symptoms in the early stages - approximately 40% of lung cancer patients are diagnosed in stage III or stage IV. Knowing these symptoms and how early lung screenings may help people at high risk for the disease.

1. A cough that won't quit

A cough that is from a cold or respiratory infection will go away in a week or two, but a persistent cough that lingers can be a symptom of lung cancer. Don't be tempted to dismiss a stubborn cough. See your doctor right away. They will listen to your lungs and may order an X-ray or other tests to determine it's cause.

2. Change in a cough

Pay attention to any changes in a chronic cough, especially if you smoke or were a previous smoker. If you're coughing more often, your cough is deeper or has hoarse sound, or you are coughing up blood or more mucus than usual, it's time to a doctor. If you notice any of these changes in a family member or a friend, suggest they visit with their doctor or a pulmonologist.

3. Breathing changes

Becoming easily winded or showing signs of shortness of breath, may be possible symptoms of lung cancer. Changes in breathing can occur if lung cancer blocks or narrows the airway, or if fluid from a lung tumor builds up in the chest.

4. Chest pain

Lung cancer may produce pain in the chest, shoulders or back. It may feel like an aching feeling - not associated with coughing. If you experience any type of chest pain: sharp, dull, constant or comes and goes - tell your doctor immediately. Often when lung cancer causes chest pain, the discomfort may result from enlarged lymph nodes or metastasis to the chest wall, the lining around the lungs called pleura.

5. Wheezing

Wheezing can be associated with multiple causes, some of which are easily treatable like asthma, but wheezing can be also a symptom of lung cancer, which is why it's important to bring it to your doctor's attention.

6. Raspy, hoarse voice

Hoarseness is often caused by a cold, but if this symptom lasts longer than two weeks, it's possible that it may be related to lung cancer. Often when you hear a significant change in your voice that sounds deeper, hoarser or raspier, you should have it checked out by your doctor - lung cancer can occur when the tumor affects the nerve that controls the larynx.

7. Unexplained drop in weight

Unexplained weight loss of 10 lbs. or more should be a cause for concern. If the weight loss is attributed to cancer, it is often the result of cancer cells shifting the way the body converts food into energy.

8. Bone pain

When lung cancer has spread to the bones, it may produce pain in the back or other areas of the body. This pain may worsen at night while resting on your back. Lung cancer is occasionally liked to shoulder, arm or neck pain, but this is less common. Bone pain is typically worse at night and increases with movement. Let your doctor know about your aches and pains!

9. Headaches

Headaches may happen for numerous reasons and most of them are probably not related to cancer. However, there is a link to headaches and lung cancer. It's possible that the headaches are associated with brain metastases. There are also times when a lung tumor may create pressure on the superior vena cava, (a large vein that moves blood from the upper body to the heart) and this pressure can also trigger headaches.

If you are presenting any of these symptoms, you should talk with your doctor - it's possible you are experiencing early symptoms of lung cancer. One of the best things you can do to help detect lung cancer in the early stages is to have a lung cancer screening that includes a low-dose CT scan. A study has shown that screening early with a low-dose CT can reduce lung cancer mortality by up to 20 percent. If you are a smoker, you should look for help to quit smoking.

Low-Dose CT Screenings

Are you at high risk for lung cancer? The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that people at high risk for lung cancer receive low-dose CT screenings.
The recommendation applies to people who:

  • have a 30 pack year or more smoking history and currently smoke
  • are ages 55 to 80
  • have smoked within the past 15 years


  • Age 50 or over and
  • 20 pack year history of smoking and
  • One additional risk factor of COPD, Pulmonary Fibrosis, personal or family history of cancer, radon exposure, occupational exposure to asbestos, silica, cadmium, arsenic, beryllium, chromium, diesel fumes, or nickel.

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms associated with lung disease or meet any of the criteria that apply to people at high risk, schedule a Lung Cancer Screening or talk with your doctor about whether low-dose CT screening is appropriate for you.

To get started, call the Lung Cancer Screening hotline and download the questionnaire below.

To schedule a Lung Cancer Screening, call: 573-406-5813.

Download the Lung Cancer Screening Questionnaire