Prevention and detection

Frank's doctor listens to his lungs to see how well he is breathing despite lung cancer

Family history, lifestyle and where you work or live may increase your risk of getting cancer. That's why we encourage you to speak with your primary care provider about changes you can make to help prevent cancer.

The right cancer treatment is based on an accurate diagnosis.


The most common lung cancer symptom is a cough that won't go away.

Other symptoms of lung cancer include:

  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath
  • coughing up blood
  • loss of appetite or unintentional weight loss
  • fatigue

If you have possible lung cancer symptoms, your doctor may use pulmonary function tests to confirm how bad your symptoms are and how they can be alleviated. Pulmonary function tests are a group of tests that measure how well the lungs take in and release air and how well they move oxygen into the blood.

What causes symptoms of lung cancer?

Cigarette smoking causes about 90 percent of lung cancer cases.

  • Quitting smoking or never starting are the best ways to prevent lung cancer symptoms.
  • Secondhand smoke comes from the burning tips of cigarettes, pipes and cigars, and smoke exhaled by smokers. About 3,000 people each year die of lung cancer caused by breathing in secondhand smoke.

Asbestos can also cause symptoms of lung cancer. Workers who regularly breathe in asbestos dust have a high risk of getting lung cancer.

Lung cancer symptoms also may be caused by the tumor spreading to other areas of the body. Symptoms depend on where the cancer has spread.

For example, if cancer has gone from the lungs to the brain, you may have headaches, nausea, vomiting, confusion or weakness.

Reviewed By: Katie Schwarzkopf, manager, Lung Program at the Virginia Piper Cancer Institute - Abbott Northwestern Hospital
First Published: 09/11/2009
Last Reviewed: 09/01/2011