These Are 8 Surprising Signs of Lung Cancer Everyone Should Know

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The signs and symptoms of lung cancer go well beyond a lingering cough.

Chest pain is the most obvious sign of lung cancer, but there are plenty of other signs and symptoms you should know about—even if you’ve never smoked. Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer of both men and women in the US, and up to 20 percent of people who die from it have never smoked at all.

Why might a nonsmoker get lung cancer? Exposure to radon (an odorless gas found in homes) is often to blame, explains Robert McKenna, Jr., MD, a thoracic surgeon at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. Other possible culpritsinclude air pollution, secondhand smoke, and environmental hazards like asbestos.

Whether you smoke regularly or have never lit up in your life, keep an eye out for the following symptoms. Although there are plenty of less nefarious reasons why these issues might crop up, play it safe and discuss them with your doctor.

A lingering cough

woman coughing

“The majority of people with lung cancer have a cough, occasionally with blood,” says Dr. McKenna. Bringing up thick, rust-colored mucus can also be an early sign. But even if you have a dry cough, if it’s lingered for over a month, it’s worth getting checked out.

Chronic infections

woman sick on couch

Most of the time, viruses are to blame for lung infections like chronic bronchitis. But if you’re repeatedly getting sick and every illness seems to go straight to your chest, it could be a sign of cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.

Weight loss

feet on a scale

Dropping pounds without a change in your diet or workout? “As with any cancer,” notes Dr. McKenna, “a more advanced tumor may make proteins that tell your body to lose weight.” That’s why you may also notice a drop in your appetite. (If you’re gaining weight and not sure why, it could be one of these weird reasons.)

Bone pain


If lung cancer has spread to other organs in your body, you may feel an ache deep down in your bones or joints, says Jack Jacoub, MD, a medical oncologist and director of thoracic oncology at MemorialCare Cancer Institute at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. The back and hips are common sore spots. (Though this may also be a sign of vitamin D deficiency.)

Swelling in your neck and face

woman holding neck neck pain

If a lung tumor begins pressing against your superior vena cava (the large vein that carries blood from your head and arms to your heart), you may notice swelling in your neck and face, says Dr. Jacoub. Your arms and upper chest can also be affected.

Overwhelming fatigue

tired woman

“This is different than feeling tired,” Dr. Jacoub notes. “It’s feeling so worn out that you can’t wait to climb into bed,” and getting lots of rest doesn’t help. As many as 80 percent of people with cancer note “excessive tiredness” as a symptom.

Muscle weakness

back hip pain

Lung cancer affects your muscles as well as your organs. One of the first areas to be impacted: your hips. “You might find it hard to even get out of a chair,” says Dr. Jacoub. Weakness in the shoulders, arms, and legs is also typical.

High calcium levels

woman using toilet

Certain lung cancers make hormone-like substances that upset the balance of minerals in your body. In some instances, says Dr. McKenna, excess calcium gets released into the bloodstream. While you may not realize your levels are through the roof until your doctor orders a lab test, you should notice the symptoms that go along with high calcium: frequent urination, excessive thirst, constipation, nausea, belly pain, and dizziness.

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