Chest pain is most likely to develop during the later stages of lung cancer. This is generally due to lung tumors that can cause pain that worsens when coughing, laughing, or breathing deeply.

Lung cancer develops when lung cells begin to grow uncontrollably. Over time, this causes tumors to form within the lungs, sometimes causing chest pain and other symptoms.

This article discusses chest pain and lung cancer. It also lists other symptoms of advanced lung cancer, including metastatic lung cancer, and outlines treatments.

An older male with lung cancer at the kitchen sink.Share on Pinterest
FG Trade/Getty Images

Lung cancer tumors may press against nerves or reduce a person’s breathing capacity, causing chest pain. A 2022 review states that 20–40% of people with this disease will experience some chest pain.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), chest pain from lung cancer can worsen under certain circumstances, including while:

  • breathing deeply
  • coughing
  • laughing

Chest pain does not necessarily indicate lung cancer since it can be a symptom of other conditions. Therefore, someone with chest pain or other lung cancer symptoms should seek a doctor’s advice.

There are many other symptoms of lung cancer besides chest pain, including:

Lung cancer can also present in less common ways. For instance, tumors in the upper lungs can affect some nerves that travel to the head. This leads to Horner’s syndrome, which involves the following symptoms:

  • a smaller pupil in one eye
  • weakness or drooping in the same upper eyelid
  • reduced or absent sweating on the same side of the face

Other symptoms of lung cancer include swelling, headaches, and dizziness. In some cases, an individual may lose consciousness. These symptoms could indicate superior vena cava (SVC) syndrome, a life threatening complication of lung cancer.

Anyone with symptoms of SVC syndrome should seek immediate medical attention.

Learn about the early signs and symptoms of lung cancer.

Symptoms of advanced lung cancer

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explain that lung cancer only tends to be symptomatic in its advanced stages. However, advanced lung cancers may spread to other body parts, causing further symptoms.

Metastases are cancers that begin in different areas of the body. As the ACS notes, lung cancer metastases can cause various symptoms, which can depend on where the disease has spread. For example, the disease can spread through:

  • Bone metastases: These can cause bone pain in areas such as the hips or back.
  • Nervous system metastases: These can cause balance problems, weak or numb limbs, and seizures.
  • Liver metastases: These can cause jaundice.

Lung cancer can also spread to lymph nodes, causing noticeable swelling.

Learn more about metastatic lung cancer.

Early diagnosis and treatment offer people with lung cancer the best likelihood of survival. However, the cancer is already at stages 3 or 4 in 28% and 38% of lung cancer diagnoses respectively.

Treatment for advanced lung cancer has varying goals. While in earlier stage 3 lung cancers, doctors try to cure the disease, later stage lung cancer is not curable. Treatment aims to alleviate symptoms and prolong a person’s life.

Treatment for advanced lung cancer may involve a combination of the following approaches:

Treatment can be effective, even in the most advanced stages of lung cancer. There was a 2021 study comparing the survival rates of people with advanced lung cancer. The authors wanted to gauge the efficacy of the following treatments:

  • radiation therapy
  • platinum-based chemotherapy
  • tyrosine kinase inhibitor targeted therapy

The study included 736 people with stage 4 lung cancer. Without any of these treatments, the average survival rate was 16.1 months after diagnosis. Contrastingly, with at least one of these treatments, the average survival rate increased to around 23.3 months.

Learn more about the prognosis for stage 4 lung cancer.

Some metastases are more common than others. A 2017 autopsy study found the following distribution of common metastases among people who had died of lung cancer:

  • 34.3% had liver metastases
  • 32.6% had adrenal gland metastases
  • 14.9% had bone metastases
  • 12% had central nervous system metastases
  • 10.9% had kidney metastases

Lung cancer can also spread to other body parts. The same study noted metastases in the spleen, intestines, and ovaries.

Learn how quickly lung cancer spreads.

As lung cancer develops, tumors can grow within the lungs. These tumors can press up against nerves, causing chest pain and reducing a person’s ability to breathe. Chest pain from lung cancer may worsen when breathing deeply, coughing, or laughing.

Lung cancer can cause many other symptoms, such as tiredness, hoarseness, and shortness of breath. If lung cancer metastasizes, it can cause symptoms that affect other organs. These more commonly include the liver, bones, and adrenal glands.

In many cases, lung cancer is asymptomatic in its early stages when it is most treatable. Although advanced lung cancer is incurable, treatment can improve life expectancy.