9 Sneaky Lung Cancer Symptoms

Here’s a surprise from the nation’s number one cancer killer: It’s not just smokers who get lung cancer. In fact, as many as 1 in 5 Americans who die from this disease never used tobacco, says Catherine Ann Shu, M.D., clinical director of the Thoracic Medical Oncology Service at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center in Manhattan.

Know what else? About a quarter of people with lung cancer are diagnosed by chance, after a chest x-ray or CT scan for something else entirely. The disease is sneaky that way, and it can show up in some confusing and cryptic ways.

The most common symptom of lung cancer is that “people don’t actually have any symptoms!” explains Nathan Pennell, M.D., Ph.D., a medical oncologist at Cleveland Clinic’s Taussig Cancer Center in Ohio. Given that, he says your best bet is to stay alert to “anything that just doesn’t go away when it should.” If any of the following symptoms linger longer than a month or so without an obvious explanation, alert the doctor, he says. Most of the time it won’t be cancer. “It will be normal stuff!” he says. But awareness pays: Lung cancer is sometimes curable when caught early. Here’s what to watch for. Number 5 Will SHOCK YOU !

1. A Persistent Cough

This symptom is what most people relate to lung cancer, says Dr. Shu. “If you have a chronic cough, such as smoker’s cough, and certainly, if you cough up blood or phlegm that’s in any way reddish or pink, see your doctor,” she says.

Most of the time a cough is happening for understandable reasons, such as a cold, says Dr. Pennell. It’s when it doesn’t ease up that you should snap to attention. “The average time a cough lasts after a virus is three weeks,” he explains. Hacking away for much longer than that? You know what to do.