Signs of Lung Cancer in Yourself or a Loved One

What are Some Visible Signs of Lung Cancer?

doctor examining a patient's neck
Visiblle signs of lung cancer you can see in yourself or a loved one.

What are the signs of lung cancer that you can see, hear, or feel, and why are they important?  

Signs vs Symptoms of Lung Cancer

Though the symptoms and signs of a condition are often discussed together, there are important differences.  The signs of lung cancer are those things that can be visualized by another, such as bleeding, blood pressure, or even crying.

In contrast, the symptoms of a condition are what someone senses and feels, but may not immediately be obvious to someone else, such as feeling tired or feeling dizzy.

While both signs and symptoms are important, sometimes we need to rely on signs.  At times, this is because someone is critically ill and unable to let us know their symptoms.  At other times, an individual may be experiencing symptoms but may not express these out of denial or a wish to spare family members his pain.  In this case, it can be helpful for family members to have an awareness of the signs of the disease.

Visible Signs of Lung Cancer

The list below includes some (but not all) important signs of lung cancer.  Keep in mind that this list does not include some important symptoms of lung cancer such as shortness of breath, or lung pain, back pain, or shoulder pain.

Coughing up Blood - Coughing up blood, even if it is only a small spot on a tissue, is a reason to see your doctor.  Coughing up blood or bloody symptom is the only sign of lung cancer in 7 percent of people diagnosed with the disease.

Clubbing - Clubbing of the fingers is an accumulation of tissue in the fingers that causes the pulp of the fingers to look thick, and the nails to curl downwards.  This results in spoon-shaped fingers.  The most common cause of this is lung cancer, but clubbing may also be caused by other conditions such as celiac sprue.

Hoarseness - Certainly hoarseness can be caused by many conditions, only one of which is lung cancer. If you or a loved one have unexplained hoarseness, especially if you have other signs and symptoms or risk factor for lung cancer, talk to your doctor.

Wheezing - The symptom of wheezing is often associated with asthma, but there other causes of wheezing, including lung cancer.

Weight Loss - Some people may be excited if that weight just drops off for no cause, but unexplained weight loss could be an important symptom of cancers such as lung cancer.

Jaundice - Jaundice - a yellowish discoloration of the skin and the whites of the eyes - has many causes, one of which could be cancer.  With lung cancer, jaundice most often occurs when the cancer spreads (metastasizes) to the liver.

Enlarged Lymph Nodes - Enlarged lymph nodes may be a sign of lung cancer.  When this occurs, lymph nodes are most commonly felt just under the collar bone or in the neck.

Fractures - In 30 to 40 percent of people with lung cancer, the lung cancer will spread to the bones.

When this occurs the bones may become weaker and fracture easily.  Lung cancer may spread to bones in nearly any region of the body but is somewhat unique in that it may spread to the hands and feet.

Superior Vena Cava Syndrome - Superior Vena Cava Syndrome (SVC Syndrome) is a condition that occurs in 2 to 4 percent of people with lung cancer.  This syndrome, which occurs most commonly with lung cancers near the top of the lungs, occurs when the tumor pushes on and obstructs the large blood vessel returning blood in the neck (the superior vena cava.)  Signs include swelling of the face, neck, and arms, difficulty swallowing and breathing, and a bluish tinge to the skin among other signs.

Pancoast Syndrome - A droopy eyelid (Horner's syndrome) and flushing on one side of the face could be a sign of something known as Pancoast Syndrome.  These symptoms are usually caused by lung cancers near the top of the lungs that invade the chest wall.

Paraneoplastic Syndrome - Some lung cancer cells secrete substances that may cause a variety of unusual signs.  Some of these include a high calcium level in the blood, breast growth in men, a low blood sodium level, and an irregular gate,

Last But Not Least

The list above includes only a few possible symptoms of lung cancer.  If you or a loved one have any signs or symptoms that are unusual or unexplained, it's important to make an appointment to see your doctor.  Keep in mind that even though lung cancer is often associated with smoking, 20 percent of women who develop lung cancer have never smoked.  Anyone who has lungs can get lung cancer.

If you smoked in the past (or have had other exposures that can cause lung cancer such as exposure to radon in the home, or occupational exposures) talk to your doctor about lung cancer screening.


American Cancer Society. Signs and Symptoms of Lung Cancer. Updated 02/22/16.

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