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Lung Cancer Warning Signs

Report and results available online

A Veteran reviewing their x-rays with a VA health care providerWith lung health being a top concern during the pandemic, now is a great time to ask your health care provider to be screened for lung cancer. When found early, cancer is more likely to be successfully treated. Remember, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Take advantage of the screening that can help at an early stage, when it's easier to treat.

The earlier the better

In most people, lung cancer doesn't cause symptoms until it spreads to other parts of the body, which makes it harder to treat. Talk to your health care provider and see if you're a candidate for screening.

Possible warning signs

Lung cancer rarely has symptoms. When it does, it's good to know what to look for. If signs of the disease start to appear, some symptoms can include:

  • Chronic, hacking, raspy coughing

  • Coughing up blood

  • Respiratory infections that keep coming back, including bronchitis or pneumonia, or even wheezing

  • Shortness of breath that gets worse or chest pain

  • Swelling of the neck and face

  • Pain and weakness in the shoulder, arm, or hand

  • Trouble swallowing

  • Unexplained weight loss

Who should be screened?

Screening for lung cancer is recommended for Veterans who:

  • Are 50 - 80 years old

  • Are current or former smokers who quit less than 15 years ago

  • Smoked at least 20 pack-years (A 'pack-year' is smoking an average of one pack of cigarettes per day for one year. For example, a person could have a 20 pack-year history by smoking one pack a day for 20 years or two packs a day for 10 years.)

What happens when you are screened?

The only recommended screening test for lung cancer is low-dose computed tomography (also called a low-dose CT scan, or LDCT). LDCT is a painless, non-invasive imaging test performed in an outpatient setting where you will lie flat on your back for a few minutes while the CT machine takes images of your lungs. In the test, an X-ray machine scans your body in a spiral path. This machine is linked to a computer, which processes the scanned information and creates a series of detailed images. The scan only takes a few minutes and is not painful.

Viewing your results

Once you have completed your LDCT at a VA facility, you can view your results online by signing in with a Premium account to VA Medical Images and Reports. Then:

  1. Select Check Updates

  2. Select View Report to view or download a PDF copy of the Radiology Report for the desired study

  3. Not all study images are available. If the study images are not available, you can still access the Report by selecting the View Report link

Remember: The best way to prevent lung cancer is to stop smoking. If you are still smoking, talk with your VA health care team and call 1-855-QUIT VET to get help with quitting. VA is here to help you when you want to quit.

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Screening for Lung Cancer (VA National Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention)

Updated September 20, 2021