Nine signs of lung cancer you should know about

Lung cancer is the biggest cause of cancer death in the UK. Part of the reason why is because, in the early stages, symptoms can often be dismissed as ‘just a cough’ or a lingering cold. 

Dr Muthu Thirumaran, a Spire Consultant Respiratory Physician, says that people experiencing chronic (long-term) coughs should contact their GP to check that there isn’t something more serious going on. 

“I realise that there will be lots of coughs, colds and chest problems doing the rounds this winter [in addition to the continued presence of COVID-19 infections] but anything that is still hanging around after three weeks needs checking by a doctor” he comments.

Despite the challenges of early detection, here are nine symptoms that could be a sign of something more serious, which you can look out for:

1. A lingering cough

A cough associated with a cold or respiratory infection will usually clear up in a week or two, but a persistent cough that lingers could point to a more serious issue.

2. A hoarse voice that won’t clear up

Hoarseness can be a symptom of a simple cold. However, if you or someone else notices a significant change in your voice — if it becomes deeper, hoarse or raspy — especially if this continues for more than two weeks, get it checked by your GP.

3. Changes to an existing cough

If you are experiencing a chronic cough, pay close attention to any noticeable changes, particularly if you smoke. If you’re coughing more often, your cough has become deeper or if you’re coughing up blood or an unusual amount of mucus, then it’s time to see your GP.

4. Recurring chest infections

If you’re finding that no sooner has one chest infection cleared up, then you come down with another, this could be a sign that all is not well. 

5. Breathlessness and fatigue

No one is at their best when they’re feeling under the weather. But if you’re getting breathless doing simple tasks, during light exercise or exertion or you’re feeling unusually tired, this could indicate blockages or a build-up of fluid in the airways and it’s worth investigating. 

6. Wheezing

If the airways in your lungs become blocked or inflamed, you may notice a wheezing sound when you breathe. Wheezing can be caused by many conditions, some of which are not serious if caught early and are easily treated. However, if you do experience a wheezy chest, don’t just assume it’s being caused by asthma or allergies. Wheezing can also be caused by lung cancer and it’s always worth taking it seriously.

7. Chest or shoulder pain that does not get better

Lung cancer can be associated with pain in the chest, shoulders or back. It can also produce an aching feeling that is not a result of coughing. Speak to your GP if you notice any type of chest pain, whether it is sharp, dull, intermittent or constant.

8. Unexplained weight loss

An unexpected drop in weight of 5kg or more could be due to lung cancer or another type of cancer. Cancer cells use up a lot of energy and/or can change the way your body uses the energy you get from food. Don’t discount a change in your weight if you haven’t been trying to lose some. It could point to a change in your health. 

9. Headaches

Everyone experiences a headache from time to time and of course, just because you have a headache, it doesn’t mean you have some form of cancer. However, if you start having severe headaches or migraines, especially in the presence of any of the other symptoms listed above, then get it checked out by your GP. 

Around four out of five deaths from lung cancer in the UK are preventable, according to Cancer Research UK, so knowing what signs to look for can make all the difference.

“Our best weapon in the fight against lung cancer is early detection so it is important that people know the signals to look out for and how to react if they spot any of them. A GP will be able to give you an expert opinion and, if they think it needs further investigation, will put you on the right healthcare pathway” said Dr Thirumaran.