Updated May 04, 2024

The leading cause of cancer-related death in America is lung cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up to 90 percent of lung cancers in the United States are linked to smoking.

Lung cancer types are most treatable in its early stages, so it’s crucial to be aware of signs and symptoms. One of the warning signs of early lung cancer is a lung cancer cough.

If you’re wondering how to test yourself for lung cancer or what a lung cancer cough sounds like, read on. We’ll cover this and more in our quick guide, so you can stay informed and know when to seek medical attention.

What Is Lung Cancer?

Lung cancer occurs when cancer cells grow and multiply in the lungs. Lung cancer can also spread to the lymph nodes or other places throughout the body. In the same regard, other forms of cancer can also cause developing lung cancer.

Lung cancer can be categorized into two groups: non-small cell or small cell lung cancer. These two forms of cancer grow differently and have different recommended forms of cancer care.

While there are several risk factors for developing lung cancer, one of the most common ones is smoking. Smoking accounts for 80-90% of lung cancer deaths. (Even secondhand smoke is also a leading cause of lung cancer in the United States today. Aside from tobacco, cigarettes, and other forms of smoking, you might be wondering if lung cancer is hereditary. Other common causes include diet, radiation therapy, and yes, having a family history of lung cancer.

There are many different symptoms that are prevalent in lung cancer patients. One of the most common signs is a persistent cough. In most cases, the cough severity increases over time and can be followed by pain. Other common lung cancer symptoms in patients include:

  • shortness of breath
  • coughing up blood
  • lethargy
  • weight loss
  • chest pain

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What is a Lung Cancer Cough?

A common symptom in lung cancer patients is a persistent cough at the time of diagnosis. This type of chronic cough is seen in about half of the patients who are diagnosed with lung cancer. A chronic cough lasts for at least eight consecutive weeks.

We’re often asked how a lung cancer cough sounds – and it’s important to note that coughs can vary based on the individual. A lung cancer cough can either be a wet or dry cough, and it can occur at any time of day. Many individuals note that the cough interferes with their sleep and feels similar to symptoms of allergies or a respiratory infection. If you have symptoms like blood or rust-colored mucus or phlegm, shortness of breath, chest pain, or a chest infection like bronchitis or pneumonia that come back and persist, it’s crucial to talk to your healthcare professional.

What is a Smoker’s Cough?

A smoker’s cough is common among people who smoke and happens due to the body clearing out chemicals in the airways that enter the body through the use of tobacco. Not all people who smoke will develop a smoker’s cough, and there are variations in cough severity. It’s more likely among individuals who have used tobacco for long periods of time.

Early on, a smoker’s cough is typically dry. As it progresses, the cough might produce phlegm. Phlegm can be colorless, blood-tinged, yellow-green, or white.

Additional symptoms and side effects that accompany a smoker’s cough might be a crackling sound when breathing, shortness of breath, chest pains, a sore throat, and wheezing. It’s said that smokers’ coughs are often worse in the morning and get better as the day progresses.

The best remedy is to quit smoking (including vaping, smoking weed, and cigarette smoking) – though you can also gargle saltwater, stay hydrated, try a cough suppressant, suck on lozenges, and try a humidifier to alleviate symptoms.

Knowing whether it’s a smoker’s cough or lung cancer is difficult, especially in long-term smokers, which is why regular checkups and screenings for those who are at high risk are important.

Preventing Lung Cancer: Strategies to Reduce Risk

While lung cancer remains a major health challenge, there are effective strategies to reduce the risk. Quitting smoking is the most impactful measure anyone can take to lower their lung cancer risk. For those exposed to secondhand smoke, reducing this exposure can also significantly decrease risk.

Beyond smoking cessation, improving air quality in your environment plays a crucial role. Exposure to radon, a natural but dangerous gas that can accumulate in homes, is a known risk factor for lung cancer. Testing your home for radon and taking remedial measures if needed can help prevent lung cancer. Similarly, avoiding exposure to workplace carcinogens such as asbestos and certain chemicals used in industries like construction or automotive is vital.

Maintaining a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables has been shown to provide some lung cancer prevention. Foods high in vitamins and antioxidants can help combat the damage caused by free radicals and may reduce lung cancer risk. Increasing physical activity not only improves your overall health but has been associated with a lower risk of developing lung cancer. Studies suggest that regular exercise helps improve lung function and maintains a healthy immune system, which can be crucial in warding off cancer.

Regular health check-ups and lung cancer screenings are crucial, especially for those with a high risk based on family history or long-term smoking habits. Awareness of what lung cancer cough sounds like can also prompt earlier investigation and potential diagnosis, which is essential for effective treatment. Engaging in discussions about the sound of a lung cancer cough with your healthcare provider can help you understand when to seek further evaluation.

Lung Cancer Screening

If you experience persistent coughing and are worried that it might be a sign of developing lung cancer or another oncoming lung disease, the next step is to talk to your doctor. The American Cancer Society outlines screening criteria that are good to keep in mind. A patient who is at a higher lung cancer risk should be screened yearly to catch an early diagnosis of lung cancer.

Screening Criteria

The American Cancer Society recommends annual lung cancer screening with a low-dose CT scan (LDCT) for certain people at higher risk for lung cancer who meet the following conditions:

  • Are aged 55 to 74 years and in fairly good health, and
  • Currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years, and
  • Have at least a 30-pack-year smoking history, and
  • Receive smoking cessation counseling if they are current smokers
  • Have been involved in informed/shared decision-making about the benefits, limitations, and harms of screening with LDCT scans, and
  • Have access to a high-volume, high-quality lung cancer screening and treatment center.

Exploring Alternative Therapies at ITC 

At Immunity Therapy Center, we understand the importance of identifying what a lung cancer cough is like. We know that this can help with early detection and ultimately be a key consideration when choosing integrated care to manage lung cancer. The alternative therapies from our comprehensive cancer center provide patients with personalized care plans that aim to strengthen the immune system and target cancer cells more effectively.

We typically do lung cancer diagnosis and screenings in one of three ways. We use imaging tests and chest X-rays to look for abnormal masses or a CT scan to show small lesions. We might also perform sputum cytology – if you have a productive cough that produces sputum, we can analyze the sample under a microscope to look for the presence of lung cancer cells. There’s also the option of a lung tissue sample, where we take a biopsy of abnormal cells.

If you do find that you have lung cancer, we offer alternative cancer treatment options that will help strengthen your immune system and kill the cancer cells. We work with our patients to come up with a natural lung cancer treatment plan and for more severe cases, focus on palliative care that works best for them and their lifestyle.

If you have any questions at all about smoker’s cough or lung cancer cough – or are interested in hearing more about our cancer care options – feel free to reach out to us today. Remember, a smoker’s cough and a lung cancer cough can be similar in sound and symptoms, so if you’re a smoker with persistent symptoms, talk to your healthcare professional as soon as possible.


Written By: Dr. Adolfo Carrillo

Dr. Adolfo Carrillo is a Board Certified Medical Doctor from Universidad Autónoma de Baja California.

Dr. Carrillo has been collaborating with Dr. Bautista for over 5 years as a treating physician at the Immunity the Immunity Therapy Center. Dr. Carrillo is a charismatic Doctor whose knowledge and commitment to patient care and bringing healing to patients is a valuable asset to our center.



  1. Medical News Today. What is the Link Between Lung Cancer and A Cough? https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319449. 
  2. Medical News Today. Everything You Need to Know About Smoker’s Cough. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318931#symptoms. 
  3. Very Well Health. Is Your Cough a Lung Cancer Cough? https://www.verywellhealth.com/is-my-cough-a-lung-cancer-cough-2248846. 
  4. Cancer.org. Lung Cancer Screening Guidelines. https://www.cancer.org/health-care-professionals/american-cancer-society-prevention-early-detection-guidelines/lung-cancer-screening-guidelines.html. 
  5. CDC. What Is Lung Cancer? https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/lung/basic_info/what-is-lung-cancer.htm.
  6. CDC. What Are the Risk Factors for Lung Cancer? https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/lung/basic_info/risk_factors.htm.
  7. CDC. What Are the Symptoms of Lung Cancer? https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/lung/basic_info/symptoms.htm.

Dr. Carlos Bautista is a Board Certified Medical Doctor. He received his Medical Degree from Universidad Autónoma de Baja California and has more than 20 years of experience working with Alternative Medicine to treat cancer, autoimmune diseases, chronic degenerative diseases, and infectious diseases. He opened Immunity Therapy Center in 2007 with the goal of providing the highest quality medical care for more than 5,000 patients.

At Immunity Therapy Center, our goal is to provide objective, updated, and research-based information on all health-related topics. This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles. All information has been fact-checked and reviewed by Dr. Carlos Bautista, a Board Certified Medical Doctor at Immunity Therapy Center. All information published on the site must undergo an extensive review process to ensure accuracy. This article contains trusted sources with all references hyperlinked for the reader's visibility.