Symptoms & Risk Factors

Lung Cancer

Symptoms & Risk Factors

Find out about possible symptoms of lung cancer and when to see your doctor.

These symptoms could be due to lung cancer but can also be caused by other medical conditions.

A cough that won't go away

You might have a cough most of the time. This could be normal for you if you have an underlying chest condition. It might be worse at different times of the day.

A change in a cough you have had for a long time

Your cough might:

  • be more painful,
  • have a different sound,
  • bring up coloured mucus or phlegm.

Being short of breath

You might get out of breath doing the things you used to do without a problem.

Coughing up blood

This might be small amounts of blood. You might be coughing up rust coloured phlegm (sputum). Or your sputum might have flecks of red in it. It is more unusual to cough up larger amounts of blood. But see your doctor straight away if this happens.

An ache or pain in the chest or shoulder

You might have pain in your chest or shoulder. It could be a dull ache or a sharper pain.

Loss of appetite

You might have lost your appetite or may not feel like eating foods that you normally like.

Losing weight

You might lose a lot of weight quickly and unexpectedly.

Feeling very tired (fatigue)

You might feel very tired a lot of the time.

Ongoing chest infections

You might have chest infections most of the time. Or you might have a chest infection that doesn’t get better with treatment.

Risk factors

While smoking is linked to more than 80% of all lung cancer cases, many people that have never smoked or been exposed to passive smoke develop lung cancer.

  • Smoking, including passive smoking and smoking Marijuana,
  • Indoor pollutants e.g. radon, coal smoke,
  • Asbestos and other carcinogens (wood dust, welding fumes, arsenic, industrial metals, beryllium and chromium),
  • Air pollution (including, diesel exhausts),
  • Family or personal history of lung cancer,
  • Previous Radiotherapy,
  • Age - 50 and older,
  • Diet.

Having the following conditions can also increase your risk of developing lung cancer later in life :

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD),
  • Pulmonary fibrosis,
  • Head, neck or oesophageal cancer,
  • Tuberculosis,
  • Lymphoma or breast cancer (treated with thoracic radiotherapy).

These symptoms may not be due to cancer but it is important to get them checked by a doctor.

Other possible causes

Stories about potential causes of cancer are often in the media and it isn’t always clear which ideas are supported by evidence. There might be things you have heard of that we haven’t included here. This is either because there is no evidence about them or the evidence is unclear.