5 Early Signs of Lung Cancer That Many Miss

16 May, 2024

This article is medically reviewed by Dr. Hozefa Lokhandwala, Consultant - Surgical Oncology and HIPEC Specialist, HCG Cancer Centre, Indore.

Table of Contents


Lung cancer is one of the top 10 cancers among Indians. Despite significant advancements made in the field of lung cancer diagnosis and management, it is still one of the cancers that is often diagnosed in the advanced stages.

One of the biggest reasons for this is that lung cancer does not often cause symptoms in the early stages, and those that it does cause are vague and can be easily confused with symptoms of several, less-serious respiratory conditions.

In this article, let’s see the different signs and symptoms of early lung cancer and understand what to do when one experiences the early signs of lung cancer.

“Lung cancer is the 4th most common cancer among Indians. Yet not many are aware of how this cancer is caused, what needs to be done to reduce its risk, and what are its various symptoms.”

“It is high time for everyone to become cancer aware. Becoming cancer aware can help people in numerous ways, starting from empowering them to adopt appropriate cancer prevention strategies to know what to do when they experience cancer-related symptoms.”

Types of Lung Cancer

Based on its origin (cell type that it arises from) and its growth rate, lung cancer is classified into the following types:

1. Small-Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC)

Small-cell lung cancer is a fast-growing type of lung cancer, and it accounts for about 10–15% of lung cancer cases. It spreads to different parts of the body rather quickly.

It is often treated with chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy. Its survival rates are relatively lower than those of non-small-cell lung cancer.

2. Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC)

Non-small cell lung cancer is the most common type of lung cancer, and it accounts for about 80–85% of cases. It has varying growth rates, and its subtypes include adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and large cell carcinoma.

The different treatment options available include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy. The survival rates are also relatively better for NSCLC.

Why Should You Give Extra Attention to Early Symptoms of Lung Cancer?

Giving extra attention to early symptoms of lung cancer is going to benefit patients in numerous ways, be it through an early diagnosis or a better quality of life after treatment.

Like any other cancer, lung cancer is treated best when it is caught in the early stages, when the disease has not spread to other parts of the body.

The following are the key advantages of paying extra attention to early symptoms of lung cancer:

  1. Early detection of lung cancer
  2. Availability of more lung cancer treatment options
  3. Better prognosis and survival rates
  4. Enhanced quality of life
  5. Reduced risk of recurrence
  6. More empowerment for patients to make informed health decisions

Lung cancer is the 4th most common cancer in India, according to Globocan 2022 reports. Depending on their origin and growth rate, lung cancer is classified into two types, small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer.

It is crucial to pay attention to respiratory symptoms that are persistent as they sometimes indicate lung cancer. This can help in the early detection and timely treatment of lung cancer.

Some Early Symptoms of Lung Cancer

In most cases, lung cancer doesn’t present with any symptoms in the initial stages.

However, the following are some of the early symptoms of lung cancer one should watch out for and seek immediate medical consultation.

Common Syndromes Caused by Lung Cancer

1. Horner Syndrome

Cancers that occur on the upper part of the lungs are termed Pancoast tumors.

Most common in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCL), these Pancoast tumors affect facial nerves, causing drooping of the upper eyelid in an eye, a smaller pupil mostly in the same drooping eye, and decreased sweating all on the same side of the face, and severe shoulder pain. This is referred to as Horner syndrome.

2. Superior Vena Cava Syndrome

The superior vena cava is a large vein that is responsible for carrying blood from the head and arms to the heart and is located next to the upper part of the right lung, inside the chest. When a tumor presses on the SVC, it leads to the backing up of the blood in the veins, causing swelling of the face, neck, arms, and upper chest region. Superior vena cava syndrome may cause frequent headaches, dizziness, and sudden loss of consciousness.

3. Paraneoplastic Syndromes

Certain types of lung cancer can trigger hormone-like substances to enter the bloodstream and affect various tissues and other organs of the body. Known as paraneoplastic syndromes, they are often diagnosed in the case of SCLC, causing various complications, including:

a. Kidneys hold water in addition to lowering salt levels in the blood. This happens when cancer cells release a certain antidiuretic hormone into the blood, causing severe fatigue, loss of appetite, muscular weakness, nausea, and vomiting. If not treated on time, it can trigger unconsciousness and eventual coma.

b. Small-cell lung cancer can cause increased production of the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which stimulates the adrenal glands to produce excess cortisol. This condition is referred to as ectopic Cushing syndrome. It causes sudden weight gain, easy bruising, fatigue, fluid retention, high blood pressure, and high sugar levels.

c. Lambert-Eaton syndrome affects the nervous system, making the body down to the waist weaker. The muscles around the hip region become weak, causing immense trouble getting up. In severe cases, the patient may develop speech problems and swallowing difficulties due to extreme weakness in muscles and loss of vision.

Advanced Signs and Symptoms of Lung Cancer


Lung cancer may present with various symptoms, namely breathing difficulties, persistent cough, tiredness, and chest pain.

Lung cancer may also cause syndromes, namely Horner syndrome, superior vena cava syndrome, paraneoplastic syndrome, Cushing syndrome, and Lambert-Eaton Syndrome, which present with their own set of signs and symptoms.

In advanced stages, depending on the organ that it has spread to, lung cancer may cause anemia, persistent headaches, irregular heartbeats, bone pain, unexplained weight loss and more.

When to See an Oncologist?

Various symptoms of lung cancer overlap with those of many other respiratory conditions. Therefore, experiencing certain symptoms does not always indicate lung cancer.

However, when they are persistent and do not go away even after two weeks, you should see a specialist/oncologist for a proper evaluation.

If observations from the evaluation indicate lung cancer, the specialist may recommend additional tests for a confirmed lung cancer diagnosis.


Early detection of lung cancer benefits patients in terms of prevention of disease progression, successful treatment outcomes, enhanced survival rates, and relatively lower risk of lung cancer recurrence.

For timely detection and treatment of lung cancer, it is important for one to keep an eye on persistent respiratory symptoms and see a specialist when something abnormal is observed.

Why Choose HCG for Lung Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment?

Lung cancer management demands a specialized approach, wherein specialists from various disciplines come together to carefully study the case, understand the individual patient parameters, and accordingly recommend a customized treatment plan that not only focuses on achieving successful treatment results but also enhancing the quality of life during and after treatment.

At HCG Cancer Centre, we have dedicated specialists for lung cancer treatment and management.

With extensive training and experience in different modalities of lung cancer treatment, these specialists aim to attend to each case with compassion and an immense understanding of the patient’s preferences.

This level of personalization and patient-centricity allows us to help our patients receive the right treatment, the first time.


Early detection and timely treatment go a long way in the successful management of lung cancer. Since there are no standard screening protocols for lung cancer detection, individuals must be aware of various early or beginning symptoms of lung cancer to seek appropriate medical attention whenever necessary.

Lastly, when lung cancer symptoms are observed, it is important not to panic. The best thing to do in such cases is to seek a specialist’s opinion and follow their advice.

Frequently Asked Questions

Unfortunately, lung cancer patients can have the disease without knowing it. This is because, in some cases, patients don’t experience early signs of lung cancer, and those that lung cancer does exhibit may mimic the symptoms of various non-malignant respiratory conditions.

Not ignoring any persistent respiratory symptoms (which could be early signs of lung cancer) and seeing a doctor for a proper evaluation can help in the early detection of lung cancer.

Lung cancer is treatable with excellent clinical outcomes. However, the success rates depend on various factors, such as the type of lung cancer, its stage and grade, the patient’s age, the patient’s overall health condition, and the treatment response shown by the patient.

For instance, the health outcomes may be excellent for patients who have early-stage lung cancer without any underlying medical conditions.

As the stage advances, successful treatment may become challenging. However, it is possible to manage advanced-stage lung cancer by delaying disease progression, prolonging survival, and improving the quality of life.

For better lung cancer survival rates, it is important to be aware of the different beginning signs of lung cancer and promptly seek appropriate medical attention.

Yes, it is possible to survive lung cancer. The survival rate, however, varies from one patient to another and depends on factors like the type of lung cancer, its stage and grade, the patient’s overall health condition, and more.

Through the adoption of advanced treatment approaches, we are now able to improve the survival rates of lung cancer patients while also enhancing their quality of life.

Lung cancer may affect the body in numerous ways. The tumor growth in the lung may cause breathing difficulties, persistent coughing, extreme tiredness, respiratory infections, and chest pain. As the disease spreads to other parts of the body, such as the brain, liver, and bones, various organ-specific symptoms will be observed.

Lung cancer can develop at any age. However, its risk increases with age, especially among those with smoking habits.

While anyone can develop lung cancer, certain individuals have a higher risk of developing lung cancer. The following factors can increase the chance of developing lung cancer:

  • Smoking
  • Exposure to second-hand smoke
  • Exposure to polluted air for a prolonged period
  • Exposure to hazardous chemicals
  • Inherited genetic mutations associated with lung cancer
  • Family history of lung cancer
  • Sedentary lifestyle

While 100% prevention of lung cancer is not possible, it is possible to reduce lung cancer risk with appropriate preventive measures.

The following are the different ways to prevent lung cancer or reduce its risk:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Preventing exposure to secondhand smoke
  • Limiting prolonged exposure to polluted air and hazardous chemicals, such as radon, chromium, nickel, arsenic, asbestos, soot, tar, cadmium, etc.
  • Being aware of the inherited genetic mutations and family history and seeking medical advice on the same
  • Consuming a balanced diet and adopting an active lifestyle

Yes, lung cancer may sometimes cause pain in the upper back, and some patients refer to it as “lung/back pain.” If this pain lasts for more than two weeks, you should see a specialist for a proper evaluation.


Author Bio

Dr. Hozefa Lokhandwala

MBBS, MS (General Surgery), DrNB (Surgical Oncology) Consultant - Surgical Oncology

Dr. Hozefa Lokhandwala is a seasoned surgical oncologist practicing at HCG Cancer Centre, Indore, and he specializes in the surgical management of a broad spectrum of cancers. He excels at performing different types of surgery depending on the individual patient's needs. Before HCG, he was associated with various medical institutes, including the Max Institute of Cancer Care. Recognizing the emotional complexities of cancer, Dr. Hozefa creates a comfortable treatment setting where compassion meets comprehensive care.

To book an appointment with Dr. Hozefa Lokhandwala, please click here.

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