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How do you know if you have lung cancer?

Every lung cancer story is different, and some of the common symptoms are shared with other health conditions. If you are in a high-risk group and screening is recommended for you, take advantage of that opportunity now. And no matter your history, if you have a persistent symptom that is worrying you, tell your health care provider. Remember, anyone with lungs can get lung cancer.

If you need further resources, LCRF offers complimentary educational materials. You can also call our toll-free support line at (844) 835-4325 or email support@LCRF.org.

“I had a cough…”

Lea shared, “In the summer of 2018, my husband and I went on vacation, and when we returned I noticed I developed a terrible cough. It wouldn’t stop for three weeks straight, and I even noticed a little tinge of blood came out when I coughed. It really concerned me.”

Erika went to the hospital after a persistent cough and back pain became unbearable. She was discharged 10 days later with her lung cancer diagnosis.

Ruthie’s only symptom was a bad cough. “The doctor gave me a prescription for cough medicine with codeine and sent me for a chest X-ray, which showed I had pneumonia.” Weeks later, she had no change in her condition. She had a CT scan and then a biopsy, which confirmed lung cancer.

Frank told us, “It wasn’t a hacking cough. It was more like a tickle … a need to clear my throat when talking. But what seemed so small and insignificant turned into a battle of a lifetime for me. It was the summer of 2016 and I was only in my mid-fifties when I went for a chest x-ray. They found two liters of fluid in my left lung.”

Jen was surprised when she couldn’t shake the post-nasal cough she developed over the summer of 2017. “I hadn’t been feeling great and thought allergies were the problem. I almost never get sick, though,” she recalled. “I took a full course of antibiotics and somehow felt worse afterwards. They took a chest x-ray and the results showed some abnormalities.” She was admitted to the hospital after her neck became so swollen that she had difficulty breathing. Eight days later, the doctor broke the news that Jen had a mass in her lungs.

All five were diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer.

“My chest pain was unbearable…”

Elizabeth was in the third trimester of her second pregnancy when she woke up with severe chest pain and rushed to the ER. She was diagnosed with calcified granuloma, a small, noncancerous spot of inflammation, and gave birth to a healthy baby girl two months later. Getting back in shape proved to be difficult, and Elizabeth was alarmed when she started coughing blood. “After a bunch of tests, scans, and a second opinion, I was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer that had spread to my liver and my bones.”

“I couldn’t breathe…”

Felicia said, “One day, I wasn’t feeling like myself, but I did the robotic thing and went to work as usual. I felt like I had a bad cold coming on and it was very hard to breathe, so I took a long lunch and planned a trip to urgent care. When the nurse checked my vitals, she asked how I managed to get to the clinic by myself operating on only 30% oxygen. She was surprised I wasn’t in a coma. I went by ambulance to University Hospital and spent three days in the ICU, diagnosed with pulmonary edema and high blood pressure. I was put on continuous oxygen and told it would only be needed for a few weeks. The medical staff conferred for about a half hour and sent me for a CT scan, which confirmed a fist-sized tumor and lesions throughout both my lungs. I didn’t get to go home – I was immediately admitted to the oncology floor. Three days later, after numerous tests and five liters of fluid drawn from my lungs, I was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer.”

Darcy had trouble breathing and started coughing up small amounts of blood. Her doctor found a tumor breaking through the lower lobe into the middle lobe of her right lung.

“I thought it was walking pneumonia…”

Before her advanced lung cancer diagnosis, Beth had mysterious respiratory symptoms, and a stubborn “walking pneumonia” that hadn’t responded to antibiotics or steroids.

Jennifer was feeling terribly run down and getting very winded from normal activities in spite of being fit and athletic. “I was coughing, having trouble catching my breath, and experiencing some mild wheezing. These symptoms led me to my primary care physician, and when I didn’t feel better on antibiotics within a few days, she ordered a chest x-ray. On a busy Saturday, I let my husband Andy manage our kids’ sports schedules and walked myself into the emergency department, expecting a case of walking pneumonia or bronchitis. Nothing could have surprised me more that day than to learn that I have Stage IV metastatic lung cancer.”

“I had debilitating pain…”

Marie shared, “quite by accident, a suspicious nodule was discovered in my right lung. The spot was revealed during a CT scan after I went to the ER for abdominal pain, thinking I might have appendicitis. To my shock and horror, I found out that I had lung cancer. Later, after experiencing months of debilitating thigh, leg and back pain, for which I was receiving chiropractic treatment to no avail, I finally went to an orthopedist. There I learned that the cancer had metastasized to my bones. I had been walking around with a pelvic fracture, and further scans showed spots in my ribs, lung and brain as well.”

Elizabeth had been experiencing hip pain which stretched down into her thigh. Then her femur broke as she was going down the stairs in her house. “After nearly a week of more x-rays and CT scans and MRIs, and a bronchoscopy, I was told I had non-small cell lung cancer, Stage IV. In addition to the femur, they had found tumors in the lower lobe of my right lung, lymph nodes near it and a lesion in my brain. Shocked doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt. Shocked not only at the diagnosis but also in disbelief because, other than the hip and leg pain, I’d had no symptoms – no shortness of breath, no coughing, no pain, no headaches, no vision issues, nothing.”

Read more patient journeys

Get the facts about lung cancer

Common questions about lung cancer