The Early Symptoms of Lung Cancer

Last updated: August 2020

When it comes to lung cancer, every diagnosis story is different. There is no one symptom that everyone experiences prior to finding out they have lung cancer.

To find out more about the range of signs that point to lung cancer, we reached out to members of our Facebook community and asked: “Which symptoms did you experience before being diagnosed?”

More than 100 of you commented, and here is what you shared.

Coughing for months

The most common answer was, perhaps not surprisingly, coughing. Many of you described it as an uncontrollable cough or a cough that simply would not stop. When it continued for several months, many in the community wisely knew it was time to see a doctor.

“I had some coughing, and my chest felt heavy!”

“Cough started in August and got progressively worse through December.”

“Coughing for months.”

I was coughing up blood

A number of you shared that you experienced coughing up blood. This troubling and hard-to-ignore symptom immediately alerted you to the fact that something was wrong.

“Coughing and spitting up a small amount of blood.”

“I had to get on my knees because I was coughing up blood.”

Loud wheezing

Wheezing, or shortness of breath, was mentioned by a handful of community members. Since this is a symptom of many different conditions, it does not immediately point to lung cancer.

However, a few of you mentioned that you were in very healthy condition otherwise. When you experienced shortness of breath during something simple, such as a short walk, this was a symptom you could not ignore.

“Shortness of breath. Much worse on exertion and loud wheezing.”

“I described it as a wheeze in my throat.”

My left shoulder would throb

Another less obvious symptom of lung cancer is shoulder pain. Some describe this pain as a throbbing or an odd sensation under the skin. If you have not had a physical injury that would explain this pain, this symptom could mean it is time to see the doctor.

“My mom passed away 5 years ago from this disease. Her left shoulder hurt.”

“Had a creepy-crawly feeling in my right shoulder.”

“My left shoulder would throb and appear to send pain down to my heart.”

Found mine by mistake

Sometimes, a lung cancer diagnosis can come as a surprise. Many of you shared that you felt no pain and had no coughing. You had no symptoms whatsoever.

Some were diagnosed after X-rays for another procedure or diagnosis showed evidence of lung cancer. For others, a routine visit alerted their doctor to concerning signs.

Many of you shared how lucky you felt to receive a rather swift diagnosis purely by accident.

“I was just starting treatment for breast cancer and told my oncologist that I was concerned because I did not have any X-rays or CT scans. He sent me for an X-ray to start and found two small spots in my right upper lobe. Followed up with CT scans for a year and decided to have surgery to remove them.”

“Found mine by mistake. I lucked out big time.”

“None at all. It was a total shock, but at the time I was a heavy smoker, so who knows if I had signs and just ignored them.”

Share your experiences

Thank you to everyone who shared responses for this story. Your experiences help many people who are just learning about lung cancer.

Keep the conversation going in the comments and tell us what symptoms you experienced (or did not experience) before your lung cancer diagnosis.

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