Symptoms and diagnosis of lung cancer

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Symptoms of lung cancer

  • Wheezing or 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
  • Coughing up blood-stained phlegm
  • Pain in your chest, especially when you cough or breathe in
  • Swelling around your face and neck
  • Difficulty swallowing

Other possible symptoms include:

  • Feeling more tired than usual
  • Loss of appetite / weight loss

All these symptoms can be caused by conditions other than cancer, but it’s important to go to the GP and get any unusual changes checked.

Can I be screened for lung cancer?

Testing for lung cancer when you have no symptoms is called screening. Currently there is no national screening programme for lung cancer in Ireland, if you notice any of the symptoms above or if you have any concerns we recommend that you speak with your GP.

Diagnosing lung cancer

Your family doctor (GP) will talk to you about your symptoms. Your GP may organise for you to have a chest X ray, to check your lungs for any abnormal changes.

If you doctor thinks you need more tests, he or she will refer you a rapid access lung clinic.  These are consultant-led assessment and diagnostic services for patients with suspected lung disease.  There are eight rapid access clinics located around the country.  Your GP will send you to your nearest one. Tests you might have include:

Blood tests

Specialist technicians and doctors look at your sample under a microscope.  They can identify different types and count different types of blood cells. Note, there is no blood test to diagnose lung cancer.

Pulmonary function tests

These are breathing tests.  You blow into a mouth piece to check how well your lungs work.

CT scan

This is a type of X-ray that can build up a detailed picture of the lung.


This test uses a long tube with a camera at one end to view the tissues in your lung. A biopsy may be taken at the same time.

Image courtesy of Cancer Research UK/Wikimedia Commons



A type of bronchoscopy that uses an ultrasound probe to look at the lungs and surrounding lymph nodes. Biopsy (tissue) samples from the lung or lymph nodes can be taken by passing a needle through the tube. This is called a transbronchial needle aspiration (TBNA).

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. These biopsies will be examined to see if there are any gene mutations or proteins on the cancer that specific treatments can target.

Results of all these tests are usually available within a month. The clinic will contact you to come back to the clinic for your results.

A respiratory doctor is a doctor who specialises in treating problems with the lungs and respiratory (breathing) system.

For more information

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1800 200 700

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