Knowing these 11 lung cancer symptoms can save your life

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in India with 48,698 men and 19,097 women being afflicted with the disease every year, as of 2018. [3]

As per Dr Ashay Karpe, Medical oncologist and hematologist, Sunrise Oncology Centre, “Lung cancer is one of the most common cancer in India and has a very high mortality rate. It has been seen that almost 90% of patients come in only in the advance stages.”

Statistically 6.9 percent [3] of all new cases of lung cancer in India do not show symptoms of the cancer until it’s in its later stages.

While the primary risk factor of lung cancer[1] has been found to be smoking tobacco (cigarettes and beedis) in Indian men, the association between smoking and lung cancer in Indian women has not been definitively identified, therefore lending to the belief that there may be other risk factors for lung cancer for Indian women.

“People who smoke or use tobacco are at almost 20 times higher the risk of lung cancer as compared to non smokers. Also, those who have COPD, asthma, chronic lung infections like TB, or have scars on their lungs are also at risk of lung cancer. And finally, people who have worked in coal mines or asbestos factories are also at risk of suffering from the disease,” adds Dr Ashay Karpe.

As for the delay in diagnosis, many people often get misdiagnosed due to the similarity of symptoms that are often similar to other respiratory –tract related diseases such as tuberculosis, pneumonia, allergies or a cold.

What’s more, some symptoms of lung cancer may not even be related to the lungs or breathing. Dr Ashay says, “A patient may not show symptoms related to the lungs at all. They may show symptoms related to the brain, like headaches, neurological deficits, visual problems.  In some cases the cancer may even spread to the back and cause a fracture in the vertebral coloumn or as pain in the back.”

 So, here are 7 symptoms of lung cancer that can save your life:

Symptom 1: Persistent Cough

A persistent cough, or one that worsens to a chronic cough is one of the most common symptoms of lung cancer. Along with a worsening/persistent cough, if you cough up blood or have rust-coloured spit or phlegm, you should contact your doctor immediately.

Symptom 2: Shortness of Breath

In case of lung cancer, there could be a tumor or fluid build-up that makes it difficult to breathe. Therefore difficulty breathing or shortness of breath could be a sign of lung cancer.

Symptom 3: Changes in your voice

Lung cancer can affect your vocal chords, changing your voice – making it raspy, high pitched or even hoarse. While change in your voice could be associated to other conditions such as laryngitis, it is also a known symptom of lung cancer.

Symptom 4: Bronchitis, pneumonia, or asthma

As per a study, [3], previous respiratory diseases have been associated with an increased risk of lung cancer. Conditions such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema, tuberculosis, pneumonia, and asthma that keep recurring can increase your chances of suffering from lung cancer. And since the symptoms of these conditions are similar to ones you’d experience if you had lung cancer, it is often easy to be misdiagnosed due to your past medical history.

Symptom 5: Chest Pain

Chest pain that worsens when you take a deep breath, cough or laugh is a sign of lung cancer as well. This is often because lung cancer can cause enlarged lymph nodes, fluid build-up or a tumor to press on certain parts of your lungs causing pain while breathing in, coughing or laughing.  

Symptom 6: Unexplained Weight Loss

Losing weight unintentionally, at a rapid pace, is a sign of cancer. In some cases it could indicate lung cancer when combined with other symptoms and medical history.

Symptom 7: Bone Pain

This is commonly seen in cases where the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, mainly the bones. The pain is usually seen in the back or hips and can indicate lung cancer.

Symptom 8: Nervous system changes

Headache, weakness or numbness of an arm or leg, dizziness, balance problems, or seizures are all symptoms that can be associated with the spread of lung cancer to other parts of your body, especially the brain.

Symptom 9: Jaundice

This is a condition where your skin and the white of your eyes develop a yellowish tinge. This is a symptom that is commonly seen when lung cancer has spread to your liver.

Symptom 10: Swollen lymph nodes in the neck

If you have noticed swollen lymph nodes in your neck or above your collar bone, it could be a symptom of lung cancer.

Symptom 11: Collection of symptoms

Dr Ashay Karpe says, “Sometimes patients with lung cancer may also show unusual symptoms like having high calcium concentration, hyper or hypothyroidism – which indicates that the glands in the body are over or underperforming. These symptoms are known as Paraneoplastic syndromes. This is because cancer causes the secretion of various chemicals in the body that has a distinguished effect on various organ systems.

Some other syndromes include: Horner syndrome and Superior vena cava syndrome.

If you notice symptoms of any of these syndrome, you should consult your doctor immediately.


1] Noronha V, Pinninti R, Patil VM, Joshi A, Prabhash K. Lung cancer in the Indian subcontinent. South Asian J Cancer. 2016;5(3):95-103. doi:10.4103/2278-330X.187571

2] VISWANATHAN R, SEN GUPTA, IYER PV. Incidence of primary lung cancer in India. Thorax. 1962;17(1):73-76. doi:10.1136/thx.17.1.73

3] Ferlay, J. et al. Estimating the global cancer incidence and mortality in 2018: GLOBOCAN sources and methods. Int J. Cancer 144, 1941–1953 (2019).

4] Denholm, R. et al. Is previous respiratory disease a risk factor for lung cancer? Am. J. Respir. Crit. Care Med. 190, 549–559 (2014).





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