Lung cancer: main symptoms and how to deal with it

Lung cancer is, along with breast and colorectal cancer, the most frequent of malignant tumors in Spain, according to the study on cancer figures in Spain by the Spanish Society of Medical Oncology. What characterize it? What are your symptoms? And the treatment? We have consulted oncologists and specialists from the Spanish Association Against Cancer and this is what they have explained to us.

Knowing the enemy: what lung cancer looks like

Lung cancer implies that tumor cells affect and invade the healthy tissues of the organ. This tumor can appear in three different forms:

  • By localized growth from the lung wall outwards . This type of malignant lung tumor can affect surrounding organs, muscles and bones.
  • Lymphatic expansion . It occurs when the lymph circulates with the tumor and reaches the lymph nodes of the mediastinum – the area between both lungs.
  • Metastasis The diffusion of tumor cells circulates through the blood vessels to any part of the body.

Some of the factors that increase the risk of lung cancer are tobacco, exposure to radon and other carcinogens in the environment, and genetics itself.

Symptoms of lung cancer

Síntomas del cáncer de pulmón

Unlike what happens with other cancers, when it attacks the lung, the symptoms only reveal themselves when it is already somewhat advanced , and the discomfort forces the patient to go to a consultation. The most common symptoms of lung cancer are as follows.

Cough with expectoration

Very especially in the case of smokers, it is more persistent and harsher. When, in addition, a bloody expectoration or hemoptysis is included , the alarms go off in the patient.


The patient feels that he is short of breath and that it is difficult for him to make certain efforts.

Chest pain

These are focused on the chest wall or pleura. Likewise, episodes of dysphonia, dysphagia or even Horner’s syndrome can occur if it affects the nerves of the chest.

In those cases in which the lung cancer is more advanced , the symptoms are aggravated: loss of appetite, decay, pain in the bones, confusion or weight loss, are the most common.

How Lung Cancer Is Diagnosed

Once the symptoms of lung cancer have been confirmed -after investigation of the patient’s history, genetics, and lifestyle-, the protocol continues through the diagnostic tests that have to confirm if the symptoms are correct, the type of tumor malignant lung and the stage in which it is.

Blood and urine tests

This chemical examination allows the doctor to know the general condition of the patient, specifically looking for any alteration in the function of the kidneys or liver.

Chest x-ray

This diagnostic test will show if there are nodules in the lung or any alteration in these that leads to confirm the presence of lung cancer.

Factores que inciden en la aparición del cáncer de pulmón

Sputum cytology

It analyzes the cells of the sputum – secretion of the bronchi. It is not always effective, since, in the earliest stages, the size of the tumor may not be significant.


Examines the trachea and bronchi from the inside with a tube that has a fiber optic so that the doctor can directly assess the condition of the airways.


Through a fine needle, cells are removed from the predictably affected area.

Other diagnostic tests to confirm the diagnosis of lung cancer

In older people, there are other types of more specific tests for the detection of the tumor in the lung, such as the scan or computerized tomography (CT), bone scan (to detect bone metastases), positron emission tomography or spirometry.

Although in other types of cancer it has been shown that early diagnosis is one of the factors for overcoming the tumor, in the case of lung cancer it has not yet been possible to reduce the affectation through diagnosis in the first stages of it.

Coping With Lung Cancer: Malignant Tumor Treatments

When the diagnosis is positive, time – whatever the cancer to fight – is key. In the case of lung cancer there are, for now, three common treatments and others for a more localized action in the bronchi. The choice of one or the other always rests with the oncologist.


Its modality depends on the size, where it is, and the stage of the tumor, and it can mean the removal of the lung lobe ( lobectomy) or the entire lung ( pneumonectomy). In any case, the mediastinal nodes are also usually removed to analyze the expansion of the cancer.


It is a local treatment for what types of lung cancer, which destroys tumor cells through ionizing radiation . This modality can have direct consequences on healthy surrounding tissues.


Through the consumption or delivery of drugs , tumor-fighting agents are introduced into the blood, which, however, indiscriminately attacks malignant cells and healthy cells. This is the priority option when it comes to small cell carcinoma.

Treatments for a more localized action

Other treatments such as intrabronchial laser or endobronchial prostheses are established for those lung tumors that are located inside the bronchus.