Medical history and physical examination for lung cancer

Exam Overview

Your medical history can help your health professional find out what is causing your symptoms. Your health professional will ask you questions about:

  • Your symptoms, such as shortness of breath, cough, bloody mucus or blood from the lungs (sputum), and wheezing.
  • How long you have had your symptoms.
  • Whether your symptoms are becoming worse.
  • Any change in your appetite or a recent weight loss.
  • Your use of tobacco.
  • Your exposure to smoke from other people's smoking (secondhand smoke).
  • Your contact with certain chemicals, such as asbestos, radioactive dust, or radon.
  • Your work-related contact with fumes and dust (for example, you might be exposed to dust on the job if you work in the mining industry).
  • Any respiratory problems you had when you were a child.
  • Your family history of respiratory problems and/or cancer.
  • Other medical conditions you may have.

During the physical exam, your health professional will examine your body to help find the cause of your symptoms. Your health professional may:

  • Take your temperature and weight to check for a fever or weight loss.
  • Examine your ears, eyes, nose, and throat for signs of infection.
  • Listen to your heart and lungs with a stethoscope. He or she will listen for abnormal air movement through your lungs that may indicate pneumonia or other respiratory problems.
  • Examine your chest for areas of pain in your ribs or muscles.
  • Press or tap on your belly (abdominal palpation) to check for pain, fluid buildup, or an enlarged liver.
  • Examine your neck, armpits, groin, and other areas of your body to check for enlarged lymph nodes.

Laboratory tests may also be part of your physical exam for lung cancer. Laboratory tests may include a complete blood count (CBC), a routine chemistry screen, and a chest X-ray.

Why It Is Done

A complete medical history and physical exam will help your health professional find out what is causing your symptoms.


Your medical history may show that you have an increased risk of developing lung cancer if you have risk factors such as:

  • Tobacco use or contact with tobacco smoke.
  • A family history of cancer or respiratory problems.
  • Contact with certain chemicals, such as asbestos, radioactive dust, or radon.
  • Work-related contact with fumes or dust.
  • Frequent, severe respiratory illnesses.
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) .

Physical symptoms related to lung cancer include:

  • Shortness of breath, wheezing, or difficulty breathing.
  • Chest pain.
  • A new or worse cough or bloody sputum.
  • Weight loss and increasing fatigue.

What To Think About

A medical history and physical exam will help find out what is causing your symptoms. If lung cancer is suspected, your health professional will order other tests to confirm the diagnosis.

Complete the medical test information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you prepare for this test.

Last Updated: June 4, 2008

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