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. 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 when you are not dieting.

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.

Of those newly diagnosed with lung cancer, it is estimated that less than 40% are current smokers, more than 45% are former smokers, and 10% to 15% have never smoked.

Mentionable risk factors

  • Tobacco smoke,
  • 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,
  • Radiation therapy,
  • Age – 65 and older,
  • Diet.

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

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

When to see your doctor

You should see your doctor if you:

  • Get out of breath doing the things you used to do without a problem,
  • Have any blood in your phlegm (sputum) or cough up blood,
  • Have a cough that is there most of the time or has changed,
  • Feel tired all the time,
  • Have lost your appetite or have weight loss,
  • Have pain in your chest or shoulder,
  • Have ongoing chest infections or a chest infection that doesn’t get better.

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