Lung Cancer Symptoms

Different types of lung cancer grow and spread at different rates, respond differently to treatment, and have different survival rates. A lung tumor is classified as primary or secondary. Primary disease originates in the lungs, and secondary disease has metastasized to the lungs from other organs. Primary lung cancer can be divided into two groups: non small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC).

Non Small Cell Lung Cancer Types

The three separate types of non small cell lung cancer along with undifferentiated NSCLC account for approximately 85 percent of all cases of lung cancer. All NSCLC types are relatively slow to spread, and have higher survival rates than the more aggressive SCLC.

Exposure to tobacco smoke (either directly or secondhand) and radon exposure are the leading causes of NSCLC. Surgical removal of the diseased tissue is the usual treatment option, although radiation therapy and chemotherapy may also be used, depending on tumor growth and spread. However, a novel lung cancer treatment may be right for you. Non small cell lung cancer types include:

Adenocarcinoma: Usually beginning in the mucous glands, adenocarcinoma is the most frequently diagnosed type of lung tumor, accounting for forty percent of all cases. Women are more likely to develop adenocarcinoma than any other non small cell lung cancer.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma: Squamous cell carcinoma causes 30 to 35 percent of all cases. Slow growing, squamous cell carcinoma usually begins in the bronchial tubes, and diseased nodules tend to be clumped together.

Large Cell Carcinoma: The least common form of NSCLC, large cell carcinoma occurs in approximately five to fifteen percent of all cases. Tumors may develop in isolation, or in masses. The prognosis is worse than for squamous carcinomas, and tumors tend to be large at the time of diagnosis.

Undifferentiated NSCLC: The variety of NSCLC cannot be determined. As non small cell lung cancer classifications are all treated in much the same way, an undifferentiated diagnosis does not usually affect treatment outcome.

Small Cell Lung Cancer (Oat Cell Cancer)

Small cell lung cancer accounts for fifteen percent of all diagnoses, and is most prevalent among smokers. SCLC is also called oat cell cancer, because malignant cells are oat-shaped. Small cell lung cancer is aggressive and spreads quickly. In sixty to seventy percent of cases, SCLC has spread to other organs by the time of diagnosis. Once metastasized, SCLC is not a candidate for surgery, but does respond to chemotherapy.

Small cell lung cancer can be separated into limited, extensive and recurrent disease.

Lung cancer prognosis for SCLC is grim. Limited disease averages a life expectancy of fourteen months with treatment. Prognosis for extensive disease is usually under a year.


People often confuse mesothelioma with lung cancer, especially because the cause of mesothelioma, asbestos exposure, can cause both diseases. In fact, mesothelioma is a cancer of the lung, heart, or abdominal lining. Some 2,500 to 3,000 new cases are diagnosed in the United States each year. Even exposure to small amounts of asbestos can trigger mesothelioma, and the disease may not be recognized until twenty to thirty years after exposure.

Chronic Cough, Chest Pain and Other Lung Cancer Symptoms

Lung cancer symptoms are rarely felt until the disease has reached an advanced stage. Even when lung cancer symptoms are experienced, people often live with them for some time before they seek medical assistance. After all, it’s easy to dismiss shortness of breath as being out of shape, or a chronic cough as “just a cold” or allergies. More obvious symptoms, such as coughing up blood and dyspnea (difficulty breathing), may occur before medical advice is sought.

Common lung cancer symptoms include the following:

  • chest pain
  • chronic cough
  • coughing up blood (hemoptysis)
  • dyspnea (difficulty breathing)
  • fatigue
  • lung infection (pneumonia, bronchitis)
  • shortness of breath
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • weight loss
  • wheezing.

The presence of wheezing, a lung infection, chest pain, or other symptoms can indicate a number of medical conditions other than lung cancer, and require professional diagnosis. Dyspnea or coughing up blood are alarming symptoms, and require immediate medical attention.

Secondary Lung Cancer Symptoms

In addition to the primary symptoms, a number of others may occur. Some of the following symptoms may not appear to have much to do with the respiratory system, but in combination with other symptoms can indicate lung cancer:

  • bone pain
  • breast development in men
  • chills
  • droopy eyelids
  • facial swelling
  • fever
  • joint swelling
  • muscle weakness
  • pale or bluish skin
  • speech difficulties.


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Cancer Research UK. (updated 2001). Types of lung cancer.

Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center. (nd). Lung cancer facts.

National Cancer Institute. (nd). Mesothelioma: Questions and answers.

National Cancer Institute. (modified 1999). Non small cell lung cancer.

National Library of Medicine. (updated 2002). Primary lung cancer. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. (updated 2001). Lung cancer types.