Symptoms and diagnosis of lung cancer

Symptoms

The symptoms of lung cancer may include any of the following:

  • Difficulty breathing
     
  • A cough that doesn't go away or a change in a long-term cough
     
  • Repeated chest infections that won't go away even after antibiotics
     
  • Wheezing
     
  • Feeling more tired than usual
     
  • A hoarse voice
     
  • Coughing up blood-stained phlegm
     
  • Pain in your chest, especially when you cough or breathe in
     
  • Loss of appetite
     
  • Weight loss
     
  • Swelling around your face and neck
     
  • Difficulty swallowing

If you have any of the above symptoms, you must have them checked out by your doctor. But remember they can occur in many conditions other than cancer.

For more information on the signs and symptoms of lung cancer and general lung health, see our free magazine Look After Your Lungs.

Screening

Testing for lung cancer when you have no symptoms is called screening. There is no national lung cancer screening programme in Ireland at present.

However there are several studies being carried out worldwide to decide whether or not lung cancer screening would be of benefit.

If you are worried about lung cancer, talk to your GP.

Diagnosis

First visit your family doctor (GP) if you are worried about any symptoms. If your doctor has concerns about you, he or she will refer you for a chest x-ray.

An x-ray of your chest can give your doctor a good idea if there is anything abnormal about your lungs and help them decide whether or not you need to be referred to a rapid access lung clinic.

There are eight rapid access lung clinics in Ireland:

  • St. James' Hospital
     
  • Beaumont Hospital
     
  • St. Vincents' Hospital
     
  • The Mater
     
  • Waterford Regional Hospital
     
  • Cork University Hospital
     
  • Limerick Regional Hospital
     
  • University Hospital Galway

There you will see a specialist who may arrange more tests. You may need some of the following tests:

Breathing tests (lung function tests): These tests can check how well your lungs work.

Special tests

Bronchoscopy: This test uses a small tube with a camera at one end. It is passed down your airway through either your nose or your mouth. Your doctor then passes the tube right down through your airways and into your lungs. Here photos and samples from the lung tissue can be taken.

Endobronchial Ultrasound (EBUS): An EBUS is a special type of bronchoscopy that uses an ultrasound scan to take pictures inside and outside the lungs.

Lung biopsy: During a bronchoscopy, EBUS or CT scan, your doctor can take small amounts of tissue samples from your lung. These are called biopsies. Biopsies are sent to a laboratory and looked at under a microscope.

Mediastinoscopy: In this test your doctor looks into the central part of your chest at the lymph glands. This is to check if the disease has spread. It uses a small tube with a camera like in a bronchoscopy. Your doctor will first make a small cut at the base of your neck and put the tube in. Samples (biopsies) of this tissue can also be taken.

Other tests

  • CT scan
  • PET scan
  • MRI scan
  • Ultrasound
  • Isotope bone scan
  • Blood tests

Learn more about the above tests

Staging of Lung Cancer

The stage of cancer describes the size of your cancer and whether it has spread from its original area to other areas in the body. Knowing the stage of your cancer will help your doctor to decide on the best treatment for your cancer.

Your doctor will stage your lung cancer using the TNM staging system. TNM refers to the size of the tumour (T), whether it has spread to your lymph nodes (N) and whether it has spread to other parts of your body as metastases (M). It is a complex system but it can be roughly described as the following:

Stage 1: The cancer is small and in one lung only.

Stage 2 or 3: The cancer is larger; it may have grown into surrounding tissue or nearby lymph nodes.

Stage 4: The cancer has spread to other parts of your body. This can also be called advanced cancer.

For more information please see our guide "Diagnosing lung cancer (pdf 2.4MB)".

Call our National Cancer Helpline

Freephone 1800 200 700 to talk to a specialist cancer nurse.
It's open Monday-Thursday from 9am to 7pm and Friday from 9am to 5pm