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Lung Cancer Symptoms and Diagnosis

Lung Cancer Symptoms and Signs

Most people with lung cancer have symptoms that affect the ability to breathe. Shortness of breath and a worsening cough are common.

Some people may not have any symptoms. Their lung cancer may become apparent only by chance when having imaging tests for another health reason.

Along with breathing problems, other common lung cancer symptoms may include:

  • Appetite loss
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • Fatigue
  • Hoarseness
  • Weight loss

Lung Cancer Risk Factors

Risk factors increase the probability of getting cancer.

Factors that may increase your risk for lung cancer include:

  • Advanced age — most people with lung cancer are older than 65.
  • Air pollution — living in an area with excessive air pollution can put people at a higher risk for lung cancer.
  • Asbestos and other chemical exposure — at one time, asbestos was a common material in the construction and chemical industries. Exposure to asbestos (in the environment or, more often, at work) has been shown to increase lung cancer risk, particularly mesothelioma. Arsenic, beryllium, chromium, and nickel exposure may also cause lung cancer.
  • Family history — people with close relatives who have had lung cancer may be more at risk.
  • Prior lung cancer — people who have had lung cancer once are more likely to get it again.
  • Radiation exposure — radiation therapy or medical imaging tests can increase risk.
  • Radon exposure — people who work in the mining industry may have exposure to radon, a radioactive gas that damages lung cells. Radon can also be present in houses.
  • Smoking tobacco — exposure to tobacco smoke is the cause of most cases of lung cancer. The risk is greater for smokers, but nonsmokers can also develop cancer from secondhand smoke exposure.

In some cases, people can change their habits or jobs to reduce or eliminate lung cancer risk factors.

Lung Cancer Diagnosis and Staging

The type and stage of your lung cancer will help your UPMC Hillman Cancer Center care team create a treatment plan.

Staging ensures that each member of the care team knows the exact type, size, location, and spread of the cancer.

Lung cancer staging is extremely complex.

The staging process takes into account:

  • The size of the tumor.
  • The part of the lung where the tumor is located.
  • The level of the tumor's involvement with the many different parts of the lungs.
  • Whether the cancer has advanced to the lymph nodes or beyond.

Your doctor will explain your lung cancer stage to you in detail.

Tests and procedures to diagnose the type and stage of lung cancer may include:

  • Endobronchial ultrasound — the doctor inserts a bronchoscope (a small tube) through the mouth or nose and into the lung. He or she then passes an ultrasound probe through the scope to take pictures of the lung. The bronchoscope may have a surgical instrument at the end to allow the doctor to remove a small piece of tissue for testing. This is a bronchoscopic biopsy.
  • Needle biopsy — the doctor passes a needle through the skin and into the lungs to remove a small piece of tissue from the tumor. The doctor sends the tissue to the lab for a microscopic exam to look for the presence of cancer cells.
  • Radiographic tests — various diagnostic imaging techniques combine x-rays with computer technology to produce detailed pictures. You may need a shot with dye to make the pictures easier to view.

Contact Us About Lung Cancer Care

To learn more about lung cancer care or to make an appointment, you can: