A cancer diagnosis of any kind is devastating, but one of the most common and life-threatening cancers is lung cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths, accounting for about 25% of all cancer fatalities. Each year there are more than 130,000 deaths due to lung cancer in the United States alone. 
While lung cancer is always a serious diagnosis, early detection can help improve your prognosis. Finding lung cancer in its earliest stages can save your life by stopping the cancer before it progresses. Learn more about detecting lung cancer early and how to recognize potential cancer symptoms.
The Importance of Early Detection
When it comes to treating any kind of cancer, early detection is essential. Because lung cancer can spread more rapidly than many other types, early detection is increasingly important. Lung cancer that goes undiagnosed or untreated can quickly metastasize to other areas of the body and lead to a grim prognosis.
Research has shown that only 18% of patients are expected to live five years after their diagnosis when cancer is detected in later stages.
Lung cancer that is detected in earlier stages is more likely to have a better prognosis. In fact, early detection of lung cancer can decrease the mortality rate by about 20 percent, according to the American Lung Association.
To reduce overall mortality and improve every patient’s prognosis, diagnostic tools like chest X-rays and CT scans are recommended for patients who present with potential lung cancer symptoms. 
Unfortunately, the disease itself makes an early diagnosis tricky. Many cases of lung cancer present with no symptoms in the earliest stages. Things like shortness of breath and chest pain may not become apparent until stages 3 or 4 of the disease. This makes it essential for patients to be extra vigilant and aware of their risk factors and symptoms.
Knowing Your Risk Factors
There are certain factors that can increase your risk of developing lung cancer at some point in life. These include genetics, lifestyle habits, and more. The following are just a few of the most prominent risk factors that can increase your chances of a lung cancer diagnosis:
- Exposure to secondhand smoke
- Radon exposure
- Family history of lung cancer
Additional risk factors for developing lung cancer include your race, age, and gender. While lung cancer can be diagnosed at any age, it is most common in older individuals over the age of 60.
It is diagnosed more frequently in men than women, with men having a 12% higher chance of developing the disease than women. Lung cancer may be more common in Black patients, particularly Black men. These patients have an 8% higher chance of developing lung cancer than white men. 
Symptoms to Look Out for
While patients with known risk factors are encouraged to look out for the signs and symptoms of lung cancer, all individuals should be aware of these symptoms to facilitate early detection.
Many lung cancer cases present with no symptoms in the earliest stages, but as time goes on, there are certain signs that can indicate the disease is present. These symptoms can vary depending on the size of a tumor and its location within the lung.
To detect lung cancer as early as possible, patients should be on the lookout for the following:
- Shortness of breath with or without exertion
- An ongoing or progressive cough
- Extreme and excessive fatigue
- Coughing that produces blood
- Chest pain (particularly when laughing or coughing)
- Upper back pain or aching
- Shoulder pain
- Loss of appetite
- Chronic or recurrent lung infections
- Unexplained weight loss
- Fainting spells
- Feelings of weakness or lethargy
There are less common symptoms of lung cancer that can occur in some patients. These symptoms are rare but should also be looked out for when you’re considering a possible lung cancer diagnosis. They include:
- Swelling of the face or neck
- Difficulty swallowing
- Painful swallowing
- Changes to the appearance of the fingers (finger clubbing)
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, speak with your doctor about the possibility of lung cancer. Even without risk factors, your physician can run diagnostic tests just to make sure you are not suffering from this disease. 
For many patients, these symptoms are due to other underlying conditions that affect the respiratory system such as asthma, emphysema, or pulmonary hypertension. The only way to confirm the cause of your symptoms is to be vigilant and advocate for a proper diagnosis.
Seeking a Diagnosis
When you experience common symptoms of lung cancer such as chest pain or chronic coughing, you should schedule an appointment with your primary physician as soon as possible.
Your doctor will order a series of preliminary tests that may include a chest X-ray or CT scan. These imaging tools can check for tumors or growths in the lungs that begin developing in the early stages of lung cancer.
Your doctor may also perform a spirometry test or pulmonary function test (PFT). These are diagnostic tests that assess how well you are able to breathe and the capacity at which your lungs are functioning.
These tests are most often used to diagnose conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Having a pulmonary function test completed can help determine whether there is another underlying respiratory condition causing your symptoms.
If you are diagnosed with lung cancer in its earliest stages, beginning prompt treatment is essential for an improved prognosis. Your doctor may begin cancer treatments with a series of chemotherapy, radiation, and medications to shrink the size of your tumors.
In many cases, surgical removal of the tumors is necessary to prevent spreading or metastasizing.
Receiving this treatment as early as possible is vital for your survival of this disease. If you believe you are exhibiting symptoms of lung cancer, please schedule an appointment with your physician right away to be examined.
 Lung Cancer Statistics | How Common is Lung Cancer?
 Lung Cancer Fact Sheet | American Lung Association
 USCS Data Visualizations – CDC What are the Early Signs and Symptoms of Lung Cancer? | CTCA (cancercenter.com)