What are the Early Signs of Lung Cancer?

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  • Written By: Alicia Sparks
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 03 October 2019
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Most of the early signs of lung cancer are easily confused with other illnesses and conditions. Symptoms such as chronic coughing, shoulder and back pain, and even weight loss can be attributed to other conditions or can go unnoticed. The earlier lung cancer is detected, the higher a person’s cancer survival rate. Since so many lung cancer symptoms are similar to symptoms of other problems, however, many people have advanced to the final lung cancer stages before being diagnosed. To increase the chance of survival, it’s important for anyone experiencing these symptoms, especially those with a history of cancer or smoking, to seek medical attention as soon as possible.

A few of the early signs can be confused with symptoms of other illnesses. For example, a chronic cough that won’t go away can be one of the early symptoms of lung cancer that people can mistake for a cold, flu, bronchitis, or pneumonia symptom. This is also true of new coughs as well as coughs accompanied by blood. Similar symptoms, such as experiencing wheezing or hoarseness, can be early signs of lung cancer, as well. Repeated instances of lung infections, such as pneumonia and bronchitis, can also be among the earliest signs of lung cancer.


Like coughing, wheezing, and experiencing hoarseness, pain in certain body parts can be confused with symptoms of other issues, such as injuries. These body parts include the shoulder, back, arm, and chest. Sometimes these pains become worse when the person moves, coughs, or even breathes. Some people in early lung cancer stages might also experience bone pain and headaches. Shortness of breath with activity can be an early symptom of lung cancer, and is often confused with asthma or allergies.

There are also less physically painful early signs of lung cancer. For example, losing weight without trying can be a symptom of lung cancer. This is especially true if the person is also experiencing a decrease in appetite. Unexplained swelling of the face and neck can also be one of the first signs of lung cancer. Other seemingly unrelated symptoms, such as fatigue and depression, also can be early signs of lung cancer.

The cancer survival rate increases the earlier the cancer is discovered, especially if the disease is detected while it is still stage 1 lung cancer. Unfortunately, approximately one-fourth of people who have lung cancer experience no symptoms in the early lung cancer stages. Many who do have the symptoms confuse them with symptoms of other illnesses and don’t seek treatment. Consequently, nearly half of lung cancer patients have progressed to stage 4 lung cancer by the time the cancer is diagnosed. Therefore, it’s important for a person experiencing any of these potential early signs of lung cancer to consult with a doctor, especially if he has a family history of cancer or if he was or still is a smoker.


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