Signs and Symptoms of Lung Cancer in Men

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Common signs and symptoms of lung cancer in men include a worsening, long-term cough, as well as chest pain, shortness of breath, and fatigue. These occur as frequently as they do because they are all related to squamous cell carcinoma, the most common type of lung cancer in men.

Men and women who develop the same type of cancer will have similar symptoms. But since squamous cell carcinoma affects males more than females, there are differences in the most likely signs and symptoms of lung cancer amongst the sexes.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men. For this reason, it's extremely important to understand how lung cancer symptoms and signs may specifically present in men so the disease can be caught early on, when it's most treatable.

Auscultation, man
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Frequent Symptoms of Lung Cancer in Men

Just as heart disease affects men and women differently, lung cancer in men and lung cancer in women can vary. This may be partly because of differences in tobacco smoking between the two groups.

Because men are more likely than women to smoke, they’re more susceptible to the types of lung cancers that affect smokers. As such, their symptoms will frequently be specific to those conditions.

Non-small cell lung cancers (NSCLC) account for up to 85% of lung cancers; about 10% to 15% of lung cancer diagnoses are small-cell lung cancers (SCLC). There are some additional rarer types of tumors as well. Worldwide, NSCLC is the leading cause of cancer-related death in both men and women.

NSCLC is divided into different subtypes, each of which has specific symptoms and affects the body in different ways.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

In men, the most common subtype of NSCLC has historically been squamous cell carcinoma, although some research shows that it is becoming less frequent. It accounts for about 33% of male lung cancer diagnoses.

Also known as epidermoid carcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas tend to begin in the tissues that line the major airways. Smokers are at greater risk for these cancers, and since men are more likely to smoke this cancer is more common in men.

Early Symptoms of Lung Cancer

While other types of lung cancer often have no symptoms in the early stages, squamous cell carcinomas directly impact the airways. Early symptoms of this type of lung cancer may include persistent coughing and coughing up blood.

As the disease progresses, you may start to have symptoms such as:

  • Worsening chronic cough with or without blood or mucus
  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Fatigue
  • Discomfort when swallowing
  • Chest pain
  • Fever
  • Hoarseness
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Poor appetite
  • High levels of calcium in the blood


Adenocarcinoma, a type of NSCLC that begins in tissue near the outer portion of the lungs, seems to have become more prevalent in men than squamous cell carcinoma in recent years, with rates as high as 41%.

As with many types of lung cancer, there are often no signs of disease in the early stages of this cancer. When symptoms do finally appear, they are often less obvious than other forms of lung cancer and may include:

  • Shortness of breath with activity
  • Fatigue
  • Back or shoulder pain

This differs from typical lung cancer symptoms, such as coughing.

In these early stages, the first sign of a problem may come from a chest X-ray or CT scan that you might have done for some other medical reason.

In later stages, adenocarcinoma may manifest with common lung cancer symptoms, including:

  • Persistent cough
  • Coughing up blood or mucus
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Trouble breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Fever
  • Discomfort when swallowing
  • Hoarseness
  • Weight loss
  • Poor appetite

If the cancer spreads (metastasizes) beyond the lungs to other body parts and organs, other symptoms may arise. For example, when lung cancer spreads to the bones, you may feel severe pain. Meanwhile, lung cancer metastatic to the brain can cause vision problems, headaches, and loss of balance.

Rare Symptoms

Bronchioloalveolar carcinoma (BAC), a subtype of lung adenocarcinoma found mostly in women and nonsmokers, is a less frequent male lung cancer. Still, there are cases in men.

BAC may have symptoms similar to other lung cancers, but it's also not uncommon for BAC to be misdiagnosed first as pneumonia or another lung disease.


In approximately 10% of all people with lung cancer, a group of disorders known as paraneoplastic syndromes occurs. These disorders are caused by secretions from the cancer cells or an immune response to the tumors. The effect is to disrupt regular body functions in many different ways.

The two most common paraneoplastic syndromes associated with lung cancer are:

  • Hypercalcemia: This disorder occurs with squamous cell carcinoma. It's caused by elevated blood calcium levels and symptoms include dehydration, constipation, kidney problems, and confusion.
  • Syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone secretion (SIADH): A complication of NSCLC, this syndrome happens because of low sodium in the blood (hyponatremia). Symptoms may include headaches, muscle weakness, memory loss, fatigue, and seizures.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Whenever you have symptoms of lung cancer, discuss them with your healthcare provider, especially if you have ever been a smoker or regularly inhaled second-hand smoke, or if you were exposed to radon or carcinogenic chemicals such as formaldehyde and asbestos. If you meet the criteria for being at risk for lung cancer, you may want to talk with your healthcare provider about being screened for lung cancer.

As frightening as it may be to hear that you have cancer, an early diagnosis can provide peace of mind and the best chance for beating the disease.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Lynne Eldridge, MD
 Lynne Eldrige, MD, is a lung cancer physician, patient advocate, and award-winning author of "Avoiding Cancer One Day at a Time."