Can Lung Cancer Cause Back Pain? Everything to Know

Medically Reviewed By Julie Scott, DNP, ANP-BC, AOCNP
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Back pain can be a symptom of lung cancer. However, it is less common than other signs of lung cancer. The most common symptoms of lung cancer are coughing and difficulty breathing. Back pain from lung cancer may be linked to cancer spreading to the bones or pressure from a tumor. However, back pain is a common symptom of many other conditions. It is not always a sign of lung cancer.

This article explains what back pain from lung cancer can feel like. It also discusses the common symptoms of lung cancer, treatment options, and more.

Can lung cancer cause back pain?

A person is getting a back massage.
David Prado/Stocksy United

Lung cancer that has spread to the bones in the back may cause back pain.

A tumor in the lungs may also cause back pain. If it grows large enough, it can press on the spinal cord or other structures in the back.

However, if lung cancer has spread or caused a large tumor, back pain is unlikely to be the only symptom.

According to a 2020 case study, back pain as the only symptom of lung cancer is unusual. It is so unusual that a patient with back pain as the only symptom of lung cancer was used as a case study for other doctors.

The American Cancer Society explains that in cases where lung cancer has spread, bone pain in the hips or back may occur.

Learn about other causes of back pain.

What does back pain from lung cancer feel like?

Back pain from lung cancer can feel similar to musculoskeletal pain. It may feel achy or sharp and occur on only one side of the back. If the cancer has spread, back pain may also occur on both sides.

Some people may also experience other symptoms as a result of a tumor. These can include weakness in the legs, numbness, or problems with balance.

What other lung cancer symptoms can occur alongside back pain?

The most common symptoms of lung cancer include:

Less common symptoms that can occur if the cancer has spread include:

  • bone pain, including in the back or hips
  • changes to the nervous system, such as:
    • weakness in the legs
    • dizziness
    • balance problems
  • yellowness in the skin or eyes
  • lymph node swelling

Learn more about lung cancer symptoms.

What are the treatments for lung cancer back pain?

There are generally two ways to treat back pain from lung cancer. These include treatments to manage the pain and treating the lung cancer directly.

Pain-specific treatments

Your doctor may recommend medication to help relieve the symptoms of back pain caused by lung cancer. Pain medication will not remove the cancer, but may help reduce pain.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that some people may also benefit from complementary therapies. These include acupuncture, massage therapy, and meditation to reduce pain and improve wellbeing.

Contact your doctor for advice before starting any complementary therapies.

Lung cancer treatments

Treating lung cancer can help reduce any back pain it causes by shrinking the tumors. Treatment for lung cancer can include:

Learn more about lung cancer treatments.

When should I see a doctor?

You should contact a doctor if you experience any new, persistent, or worsening symptoms. These include pain, lingering cough, difficulty breathing, or coughing up blood or phlegm.

You should also contact a doctor if your symptoms worsen over time.

A history of tobacco use or long-term exposure to tobacco products increases your risk of developing lung cancer. According to the CDC, you should contact your doctor about lung cancer screening if:

  • you are between the ages of 50–80 years
  • you have a 20 pack-year smoking history
  • you currently smoke or have stopped smoking within the last 15 years

Our lung cancer appointment guide can help you prepare for your appointment.

How do doctors diagnose lung cancer as the cause of back pain?

If your doctor suspects your symptoms are due to lung cancer, they may perform a physical examination. They may also ask for your full medical history.

Your doctor may then arrange for a CT scan. The CT scan takes an image of your lungs and enables your doctor to check for signs of cancer. They may also use a CT scan during routine lung cancer screenings.

Your doctor may also order a PET scan. This can detect if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

Other tests your doctor may order to help them reach an accurate diagnosis include:

Find out more about how doctors test for lung cancer.

How can I reduce my risk of back pain from lung cancer?

The best way to prevent back pain from lung cancer is to lower your preventable risk of lung cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, your lung tissue can repair itself if you quit smoking before cancer develops. This is true regardless of your age. This means that quitting smoking can help reduce your risk of lung cancer.

You can also help lower your risk of back pain from lung cancer by:

  • reducing radon exposure
  • avoiding any tobacco products
  • eating a healthy diet that includes fresh fruits and vegetables

Learn more


Back pain can be a symptom of lung cancer, although it is less common than other symptoms. Lung cancer can cause back pain if the cancer has spread to the bones in the back. Back pain can also occur if a tumor grows large enough to press on the back.

Back pain from cancer can be managed by treating the cancer and with pain medication and complementary therapies.

Contact your doctor if you are experiencing symptoms of lung cancer. These include back pain, coughing, and difficulty breathing.  You should also contact your doctor about lung cancer screening if you are at high risk, even if you are not experiencing symptoms.

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Medical Reviewer: Julie Scott, DNP, ANP-BC, AOCNP
Last Review Date: 2022 Dec 20
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