What Are the Symptoms of Stage 1 Lung Cancer?

Medically Reviewed By Julie Scott, DNP, ANP-BC, AOCNP
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You may not experience any symptoms if you have stage 1 lung cancer. However, people with symptoms may notice persistent coughing, a cough with blood, and shortness of breath. Lung cancer is one of the most common types of cancer. Doctors may prescribe some imaging tests to help diagnose and assess the entity and stage of cancer.

There are available treatments for stage 1 lung cancer, and your doctor may suggest the most effective one for you, depending on the location and size of your cancer.

This article will explain the symptoms of stage 1 lung cancer, its causes, how doctors diagnose it, and how they may treat it.

What are the symptoms of stage 1 lung cancer?

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If you have stage 1 lung cancer, you may not experience any symptoms. When symptoms start appearing, the cancer is often in an advanced stage already.

However, if you do experience symptoms, they may include:

  • chronic cough that gets worse
  • shortness of breath while doing daily tasks
  • new persistent cough
  • ongoing chest pain
  • presence of blood in your mucus
  • cough with blood
  • frequent lung infections

Read more about lung cancer.

What are the earliest symptoms of lung cancer?

You may not experience any symptoms while your lung cancer is in its early stages.

However, the earliest symptoms of lung cancer may include:

  • shortness of breath while doing daily tasks
  • chest pain
  • blood-stained mucus
  • a persistent cough that gets worse
  • cough with blood

Other lung cancer symptoms you can experience may include:

Learn more about the early symptoms of lung cancer.

What causes stage 1 lung cancer?

Smoking is the biggest risk factor for lung cancer, as tobacco smoke contains more than 60 different carcinogenic substances.

Cigarettes are the biggest cause of lung cancer. Also, smoking the following may significantly increase the risk of getting lung cancer:

  • cigars
  • pipe tobacco
  • cannabis mixed with tobacco
  • chewable tobacco

Passive smoking may increase your risk of developing lung cancer, in particular, if you experience frequent exposure to other people’s tobacco smoke.

Radon is another source of risk. Radon is a natural radioactive gas. It comes from little particles of uranium you can find in soil and rocks. Breathing radon may damage your lungs and cause you to develop lung cancer.

Exposure to other chemical substances may enhance the risk of developing lung cancer. These substances include:

  • cadmium
  • asbestos
  • arsenic
  • coal fumes
  • beryllium
  • nickel
  • silica

What does stage 1 mean?

Stage 1 refers to the level of development and the cancer spread so far. Cancer stages include:

  • Occult stage: This is when doctors cannot see the tumor in a biopsy or on an imaging scan result. There may be traces of cancer cells in your mucus when you cough.
  • Stage 0: This is when the tumor is still small. The cancer is not present in the deeper lung tissues.
  • Stage 1: This is when cancer is present in your lung tissues but not in your lymph nodes.
  • Stage 2: This is when the cancer may be present in the lymph nodes near your lungs.
  • Stage 3: This is when the cancer is in your lymph nodes and the middle of the chest.
  • Stage 4: This is when the cancer is in other areas of your body, which may include your bones, liver, and brain.

How do doctors diagnose stage 1 lung cancer?

Your doctor will typically ask you about your general health and the symptoms you experience. They may prescribe you a blood test and spirometry to measure how much air you can breathe in and out of your lungs.

They also may require imaging tests to assess the presence of lung cancer and its dimension. These imaging tests may include:

  • X-ray: This helps doctors diagnose the presence of any gray masses in your lungs. Doctors usually perform X-rays first to diagnose lung cancer.
  • CT scan: This test creates detailed images of the inside of your body. Doctors may inject a dye contrast liquid before the test to improve the quality of the images.
  • PET-CT scan: A doctor usually performs this type of scan after a CT scan. It helps doctors distinguish the locations where the cancer cells are active. This can help doctors understand where to focus the treatment.
  • Bronchoscopy and biopsy: This allows the doctor to see the inside of your airways by using a thin tube that connects to a camera. During this procedure, the doctor can perform a biopsy or remove a sample of cells to test them.

How is stage 1 lung cancer treated?

The treatment for stage 1 lung cancer may vary depending on its location, primary type, your age, and any underlying health conditions. You may also consider quitting smoking before starting your treatment, as people who do not smoke typically experience better outcomes than people who keep smoking.

After assessing your overall health, your doctor will suggest the ideal form of treatment depending on your lung cancer.

You may require surgery. The surgeon may need to remove part of the lung or its entirety. They may also remove some lymph nodes to check for cancer. After surgery, you may undergo chemotherapy, which may lower the chance of cancer returning.

If you cannot opt for surgery, your doctor may suggest other types of treatment, such as:

  • stereotactic body radiation therapy
  • radiation therapy
  • radiofrequency ablations

Learn more about treatment for stage 1 lung cancer.


Stage 1 lung cancer is often asymptomatic. You may not experience any symptoms until lung cancer progresses to more advanced stages.

Smoking is the most frequent cause of lung cancer. Exposure to particular types of chemicals may damage your lungs and increase the risk of lung cancer development.

A cough with blood, persistent chest pain, a continuous cough, or frequent lung infections may be symptoms of stage 1 lung cancer. If you experience these symptoms, you may consider talking with your doctor. They may prescribe you some tests to assess your lung health.

Your doctor may prescribe you an X-ray, CT and PET-CT scans, or biopsy to diagnose and assess the stage of your lung cancer.

Treatment for lung cancer is available. It consists of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and radiofrequency ablation. Your doctor may suggest you the ideal form of treatment, depending on the location and the stage of your lung cancer.

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Medical Reviewer: Julie Scott, DNP, ANP-BC, AOCNP
Last Review Date: 2022 Sep 30
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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