Skip to Content


Lung cancer: Symptoms, exams & risk factors

Focused on Health - 2013

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in men and women.

That’s why MD Anderson is doing its part to end this disease with the Lung Cancer Moon Shot. This program combines the latest technology and genetic knowledge to find the most promising new treatments in a faster way.

lung cancer smokingYou can also do your part to fight lung cancer. Here’s how:

  • Don’t smoke – it’s by far the best way to prevent this disease.
  • Know what symptoms to look for.
  • Get a screening exam, if needed.   

Know the symptoms

Lung cancer symptoms vary from person to person and may include:

  • Cough that will not go away and gets worse over time
  • Constant chest pain, or arm and shoulder pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • Shortness of breath, wheezing or hoarseness
  • Repeated episodes of pneumonia or bronchitis
  • Swelling of the neck and face
  • Loss of appetite and/or weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Clubbing of fingers

Having any of these symptoms doesn’t mean you have cancer. But if you notice one or more symptoms for more than two weeks, see your doctor. Finding cancer as early as possible can improve your chances for successful treatment.

Find out if you’re at risk

Many factors increase your chances of developing lung cancer, including:

  • Smoking: Smoking is responsible for about 85% of the lung cancers in the United States. Also at higher risk are individuals who smoke cigars and pipes.
  • Lung diseases: People with lung diseases, such as tuber­culosis (TB), are at higher risk.
  • Personal history: A person who’s had lung cancer is more likely to develop a second lung cancer.
  • Secondhand smoke: People who live with, or are routinely around, smokers are at higher risk.
  • Family history: Research is beginning to show that a fam­ily history of lung cancer may be a risk factor.
  • Occupational or environmental exposure: People routinely exposed to radon or asbestos are at increased risk for developing lung cancer – particularly if they’re smokers.
  • Radiation exposure: People routinely exposed to environmental radiation in their home, workplace or hospital are at increased risk.
  • Industrial exposure: People exposed to certain industrial substances like arsenic may be at high risk.
  • Air pollution: Byproducts from the combustion of fos­sil fuels can put people at risk.

It's important to be aware of these possible risk factors so you can discuss them with your doctor. He or she can help you create a personalized action plan to help lower your cancer risks.

READ ALSO: Quit Smoking Now: 5 Ways to Curb Cravings

Get screened if you’re at risk

Cancer screening exams are medical tests performed when a person has no symptoms. At this time, lung cancer screening exams are not recommended for all men and women. 

Men and women who are at increased risk of developing lung cancer are encouraged to get annual low-dose CT scans. You are eligible for this screening exam if you are 55 to 74 years old and have a:

  • 30-year history of smoking a pack a day


  • 15-year history of smoking two packs a day 

You can take action to reduce your risk of developing lung cancer. Start by making healthy lifestyle choices.

MAKE AN APPOINTMENT: Schedule an appointment for a lung cancer screening exam at MD Anderson’s Lung Cancer Screening Clinic. Call 1-877-632-6789 to request an appointment.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Get the latest on protecting your body from cancer. 


Get a Lung Exam

Did you know you can get a lung cancer screening exam along with a personalized prevention plan at MD Anderson? 

Schedule an appointment today by calling 1-877-632-6789.

© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center