Lung Cancer: Clinical Presentation and Diagnosis

FP Essent. 2018 Jan;464:23-26.


In the absence of screening, most patients with lung cancer are not diagnosed until later stages, when the prognosis is poor. The most common symptoms are cough and dyspnea, but the most specific symptom is hemoptysis. Digital clubbing, though rare, is highly predictive of lung cancer. Symptoms can be caused by the local tumor, intrathoracic spread, distant metastases, or paraneoplastic syndromes. Clinicians should suspect lung cancer in symptomatic patients with risk factors. The initial study should be chest x-ray, but if results are negative and suspicion remains, the clinician should obtain a computed tomography scan with contrast. The diagnostic evaluation for suspected lung cancer includes tissue diagnosis, staging, and determination of functional capacity, which are completed simultaneously. Tissue samples should be obtained using the least invasive method possible. Management is based on the individual tumor histology, molecular testing results, staging, and performance status. The management plan is determined by a multidisciplinary team consisting of a pulmonology subspecialist, medical oncology subspecialist, radiation oncology subspecialist, and thoracic surgeon. The family physician should remain involved with the patient to ensure that patient priorities are supported and, if necessary, to arrange for end-of-life care.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma / complications
  • Adenocarcinoma / diagnostic imaging*
  • Adenocarcinoma / pathology
  • Adenocarcinoma / physiopathology
  • Carcinoma, Large Cell / complications
  • Carcinoma, Large Cell / diagnostic imaging*
  • Carcinoma, Large Cell / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Large Cell / physiopathology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / complications
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / diagnostic imaging*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / physiopathology
  • Cough / etiology
  • Dyspnea / etiology
  • Hemoptysis / etiology
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / complications
  • Lung Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging*
  • Lung Neoplasms / pathology
  • Lung Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Paraneoplastic Syndromes / etiology
  • Respiratory Function Tests
  • Small Cell Lung Carcinoma / complications
  • Small Cell Lung Carcinoma / diagnostic imaging*
  • Small Cell Lung Carcinoma / pathology
  • Small Cell Lung Carcinoma / physiopathology