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Lung Cancer: what are the early signs?

early signs of lung cancer, warning signs of Lung Cancer

According to the American Cancer Institute, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths. Studies suggest that approximately 75,000 new cases of lung cancer are reported each year in India. With such alarming statistics, it’s important to know the warning signs of lung cancer to get the best treatment.

Cell production and cell growth in the body is exceptionally controlled. However, if there is some disturbance in this organised routine, it causes the production of abnormal cells that contain a lot of mutations. The growth of these abnormal cells is cancer.

Lung cancer is the abnormal growth of cells in the lungs. Lung cancer starts in the lungs, but it can quickly spread to the lymph nodes and other parts of the body. Similarly, other cancerous cells can travel through the body and settle in the lungs, causing lung cancer.        

Lung cancer can be categorised as a small cell, non-small cell, and lung carcinoid tumour. 

What are the early signs of Lung Cancer?

Lung cancer is one of the few types of cancer that can go undetected for a long time. When lung cancer is finally detected, the cancerous cells have already spread into a large part of the lungs. 

When cancerous cells from the lung spread to other parts of the body, it is called metastasis. This could cause cancer to show symptoms in the affected body part and result in a misdiagnosis.

The early symptoms of lung cancer, which manifest in the first stage, can also be confused with common ailments like cold or flu. These signs include,

  • Chronic cough that doesn’t go away
  • Chest pain which is worse with laughing, coughing, deep breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing up blood or rust coloured sputum
  • Tiredness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sudden unexpected weight loss

While these are the most common symptoms of lung cancer, they can have other unrelated mild medical causes. However, if any of these signs seem to persist or seem more intense, consult a medical service provider for an accurate lung cancer diagnosis.

How can Lung Cancer be diagnosed early?

With such light and common symptoms, it is challenging to know whether you have lung cancer or another illness. You can, however, be vigilant of some risk factors that could lead to lung cancer.

  • Smoking: Smoking is the foremost cause of lung cancer. The risk of lung cancer increases depending on the number of cigarettes you smoke in a day.
  • Second-Hand Smoke: Exposure to smoke due to proximity to smokers is another factor that causes lung cancer.
  • Radiation Therapy: A previous occurrence of radiation therapy to treat cancer might lead to lung cancer.
  • Family History: Having a history of lung cancer in the immediate family of parents or siblings increases the chances of getting diagnosed with the disease.
  • Exposure to Pollutants: Long term exposure to harmful carcinogenic substances like asbestos, arsenic, and others by way of work could lead to lung cancer.
  • Exposure to Radon Gas: When uranium in the soil, water, and rock breaks down naturally, it becomes radon gas. A large quantity of radon in the air becomes unsafe to breathe. This could lead to lung cancer.

The symptoms of lung cancer, when combined with any of these risk factors, is a cause for concern, and should be diagnosed by a qualified medical professional. 

Diagnosis with early signs of Lung Cancer

Once you recognise the early signs and symptoms of lung cancer, along with the risk factors of lung cancer, you should visit an oncologist (cancer specialist).

After a physical examination, the oncologist would suggest a few tests to get a clearer view of the abnormal growth.

Imaging tests

Imaging tests like X-rays, MRIs, CT scans, and PET scans detect the exact location and size of the growth of abnormal cells. Imaging tests don’t need any special exercises like fasting. The tests are quite simple, and you get the results within minutes.

Sputum cytology

Sometimes, the results of imaging tests are not sufficient for accurate lung cancer diagnosis. In such cases, the oncologist may recommend sputum cytology. In this test, the phlegm of the patient is studied to analyse the existence of cancerous cells.

If the results of these tests show a positive outcome for cancer, the tissue is further studied by doing a biopsy. A biopsy is when a sample of infected tissue is taken from the patient to be analysed. 

Needle biopsy

A needle biopsy entails inserting a narrow, hollow needle into the lungs to collect the required sample. If the samples collected are not enough, the doctor might do a core biopsy, i.e., the doctor uses a larger needle to collect samples from the lungs. 

Samples from a core biopsy provide the doctors with a larger tissue to conduct tests on. CT scans and X-rays are used to direct the needle to the affected cells.


A bronchoscopy test uses a bronchoscope, which is a long instrument made of a fibre-optic, flexible material, that holds a camera and light source at the end. The bronchoscope is inserted into the lungs through the mouth or nose. It allows the doctor to examine the inside of the lungs and airways. 


This is a more advanced test to check the spread of lung cancer. Similar to a bronchoscope, a thoracoscope is also a flexible tube containing a camera and light source. Thoracoscopy is done to check the area between the lungs and the chest wall to see if the cancerous cells have spread. Any fluid is also collected to analyse for cancer cells.

If the warning signs of lung cancer are checked, and these tests are performed, the chances of recovery will increase in case the patients test positive for the disease. 


For the prevention of lung cancer, consider getting screening tests once a year, even if you are healthy. These tests rule out lung cancer if you are at risk due to any mitigating factors. 

No matter how small an early sign of lung cancer is, there is no harm in reaching out to your medical service provider to get the correct diagnosis.

Also, read: How Chemotherapy Works Against Cancer

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