Skip to content

What are the symptoms?

The main symptoms of lung cancer are:

  • a persistent new cough (lasting more than 3 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 3 weeks or that keeps returning
  • coughing or spitting up blood.

Lung cancer may also cause general symptoms such as wheezing, fatigue, weight loss, hoarse voice, difficulty swallowing, abdominal (tummy) pain, joint pain, neck or face swelling, and enlarged fingertips (finger clubbing).

Having any one of these symptoms does not necessarily mean that you have lung cancer; they may be caused by other conditions or from the side effects of smoking. Sometimes, there are no symptoms and the cancer is found during routine tests for other conditions. If you have symptoms, see your doctor without delay.

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. During and after treatment, you will see a range of health professionals who specialise in different aspects of your care.

GPassists you with treatment decisions and works in partnership with your specialists in providing ongoing care
respiratory physiciandiagnoses diseases of the lungs, including cancer, and recommends initial treatment options
thoracic 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
radiologist, nuclear medicine specialistanalyses x-rays and scans; an interventional radiologist may also perform a biopsy under ultrasound or CT, and deliver some treatments; a nuclear medicine specialist coordinates the delivery of nuclear scans such as PET–CT
medical oncologisttreats cancer with drug therapies such as chemotherapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy (also known as systemic treatments)
cancer care coordinator or lung cancer nurse coordinatorcoordinates your care, liaises with other members of the MDT, refers you to allied health professionals, provides education and information, 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
psychologist, counsellorhelp you manage your emotional response to diagnosis and treatment
dietitianhelps with nutrition concerns and recommends changes to diet during 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 problems, including improving fitness and breathing, 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

Featured resources

Lung Cancer - Your guide to best cancer care

Download PDF

Understanding Lung Cancer

Download PDF

This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed in October 2022 by the following expert content reviewers: A/Prof Brett Hughes, Senior Staff Specialist Medical Oncologist, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, The Prince Charles Hospital and The University of Queensland, QLD; Dr Brendan Dougherty, Respiratory and Sleep Medicine Specialist, Flinders Medical Centre, SA; Kim Greco, Nurse Consultant – Lung Cancer, Flinders Medical Centre, SA; Dr Susan Harden, Radiation Oncologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; A/Prof Rohit Joshi, Medical Oncologist, GenesisCare and Lyell McEwin Hospital, Director, Cancer Research SA; Kathlene Robson, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council ACT; Peter Spolc, Consumer; Nicole Taylor, Lung Cancer and Mesothelioma Cancer Specialist Nurse, Canberra Hospital, ACT; Rosemary Taylor, Consumer; A/Prof Gavin M Wright, Director of Surgical Oncology, St Vincent’s Hospital and Research and Education Lead – Lung Cancer, Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre, VIC.