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What are the symptoms?

The main symptoms of lung cancer are:

  • a persistent new cough (lasting more than three weeks) or a change in a cough you’ve had for a long time
  • breathlessness
  • pain in the chest or shoulder
  • chest infection that lasts more than three weeks or that keeps coming back
  • coughing or spitting up blood.

A person diagnosed with lung cancer may also have symptoms such as fatigue, weight loss, hoarse voice, wheezing, difficulty swallowing, abdominal or joint pain, and enlarged fingertips (finger clubbing).

Having any one of these symptoms does not necessarily mean that you have lung cancer. Some of these symptoms may be caused by other conditions or from the side effects of smoking. However, if you have symptoms, see your doctor without delay.

Sometimes, there are no symptoms and the cancer is found during routine tests (e.g. x-ray, CT scan) for other conditions.

Which health professionals will I see?

Your general practitioner (GP) will arrange the first tests to assess your symptoms. If these tests do not rule out cancer, you will usually be referred to a specialist called a respiratory physician, who will arrange further tests. If lung cancer is diagnosed, the specialist will consider treatment options. Often these will be discussed with other health professionals at what is known as a multidisciplinary team (MDT) meeting.

GPassists you with treatment decisions and works in partnership with your specialists in providing ongoing care
respiratory (thoracic) physiciandiagnoses diseases of the lungs, including cancer, and recommends initial treatment options
thoracic (chest) surgeondiagnoses and performs surgery for cancer and other diseases of the lungs and chest (thorax)
radiation oncologisttreats cancer by prescribing and overseeing a course of radiation therapy
radiation therapistplans and delivers radiation therapy
radiologistanalyses x-rays and scans; an interventional radiologist may also perform a biopsy under ultrasound or CT, and deliver some treatments
medical oncologisttreats cancer with drug therapies such as chemotherapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy (systemic treatments)
cancer care coordinator or lung cancer nurse coordinatorcoordinates your care, liaises with other members of the MDT and supports you and your family throughout treatment; care may also be coordinated by a clinical nurse consultant (CNC) or clinical nurse specialist (CNS)
nurseadministers drugs and provides care, information and support throughout treatment
counsellor, psychologisthelp you manage your emotional response to diagnosis and treatment
dietitianrecommends an eating plan to follow while you are in treatment and recovery
speech pathologisthelps with communication and swallowing after treatment
social workerlinks you to support services and helps with emotional, practical and financial problems
physiotherapist, occupational therapistassist with physical and practical issues, including restoring movement and mobility after treatment, and recommending aids and equipment
exercise physiologistprescribes exercise to help people with medical conditions improve their overall health, fitness, strength and energy levels
palliative care specialist and nurseswork closely with the GP and cancer team to help control symptoms and maintain your quality of life

This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed in October 2020 by the following expert content reviewers: A/Prof Nick Pavlakis, President, Australasian Lung Cancer Trials Group, President, Clinical Oncology Society of Australia, and Senior Staff Specialist, Department of Medical Oncology, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW; Dr Naveed Alam, Thoracic Surgeon, St Vincent’s Private Hospital Melbourne, VIC; Prof Kwun Fong, Thoracic and Sleep Physician and Director, UQ Thoracic Research Centre, The Prince Charles Hospital, and Professor of Medicine, The University of Queensland, QLD; Renae Grundy, Clinical Nurse Consultant – Lung, Royal Hobart Hospital, TAS; A/Prof Brian Le, Director, Palliative Care, Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre – Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and The Royal Melbourne Hospital, and The University Of Melbourne, VIC; A/Prof Margot Lehman, Senior Radiation Oncologist and Director, Radiation Oncology, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD; Susana Lloyd, Consumer; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Nicole Parkinson, Lung Cancer Support Nurse, Lung Foundation Australia.