September 18, 2020

Lung Cancer in Men: Signs, Symptoms and Diagnosis

Lung cancer in men differs from lung cancer in women in a number of ways. Men are more likely to get lung cancer due to higher rates of smoking, but men who’ve never smoked are less likely to get the disease than women who’ve never smoked. Men who do smoke are less likely to get the disease than women and tend to get it at an older age.

The types of lung cancer that usually affect men also differ as does the effectiveness of the therapies used to treat them. Overall, the outcomes tend to be poorer in men, although newer targeted immunotherapy drugs are showing promise. 

Why’s Lung Cancer More Common in Men?

One of the main reasons why lung cancer is more common in men is due to higher rates of smoking. Another reason is that more men tend to work in environments that increase their exposure to carcinogens linked to lung cancer. 

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in men worldwide. Although men are more likely to get lung cancer than women, the number of men and women diagnosed with the disease each year is slowly reaching parity.

Here are the 2020 statistics issued by the American Cancer Society:

  • Around 228,820 new cases of lung cancer are projected to be diagnosed in the United States, comprised of 116,000 cases men and 112,520 women
  • Around 135,720 Americans will die from lung cancer, 75,500 of whom will be men and 63,220 of whom will be women


There are two main types of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC). Men are more likely to get a type of NSCLC called squamous cell lung cancer, which develops within the airways of the lungs. Men are somewhat less likely to get small cell lung cancers, a less common, but more aggressive form of the disease. Studies in the journal Lung Cancer reported that SCLC accounts for about 20% of lung cancer cases in men versus 34% in women.

Men’s Health: Deferred Maintenance

Listen to our conversation with Dr. Eli Pendleton to learn about common health issues affecting mean throughout the decades.

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Signs and Symptoms

In men, the early stages of lung cancer don’t typically cause symptoms. As the cancer grows and spreads, symptoms start to develop. Men usually experience more “typical” symptoms of lung cancer, including:

  • Persistent cough
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing up blood
  • Chest pain
  • Pain when breathing or coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Hoarseness
  • Frequent lung infections, such as pneumonia or bronchitis
  • Atelectasis, which is the collapse of the lungs after cancer has blocked the airways

If squamous cell carcinoma develops in the lungs, you may also experience paraneoplastic syndrome, which occurs when cancerous cells or cells from the immune system produce hormones or other substances that change the surrounding tissue. Paraneoplastic syndrome can cause the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty walking and maintaining balance
  • Muscle cramps
  • Involuntary movements
  • Loss of muscle coordination
  • Muscle weakness
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Slurred speech

Symptoms of Male Smokers

Smoking cigarettes plays a large role in developing lung cancer. In the U.S., cigarette smoking is more common in men than in women. Some of the early signs and symptoms of lung cancer that are associated with men who smoke cigarettes include:

  • Hoarseness in your voice
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath

Diagnoses Differences

Thanks to advances in modern medicine, doctors are able to diagnose lung cancer early in both men and women. People who get treatment at an early stage have a better chance of living longer. 

To look for signs of lung cancer, your doctor will talk with you about your general health and any symptoms you may be experiencing. Your doctor may also perform a physical examination and spirometry test, where you’ll be asked to breathe into a small device called a spirometer, which can help diagnose lung problems. 

To ensure an accurate diagnosis and rule out other conditions, your doctor may perform one or more of the following tests:

  • Imaging tests. These tests may include a chest X-ray or a CT scan that allows your doctor to look inside your body for signs of lung cancer.
  • Sputum cytology. During a sputum cytology test, you’ll be asked to cough up a small amount of sputum, which the doctor will examine under a microscope to look for cancer cells.
  • Biopsy. During this procedure, your doctor will insert a small tube through your mouth or nose to collect a small sample of cells from your lungs that will be analyzed at the lab.

Treatment of Lung Cancer in Men

There are different treatments available for people diagnosed with lung cancer. Many approaches, such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, are the same for both men and women. Some of the treatments that are used with men include:

  • Targeted therapies. Targeted therapies are drugs designed to recognize, target, and kill cells with specific genetic mutations. These include mutations of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) gene, the KRAS gene, and the anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) gene.
  • Immunotherapies. Immunotherapies were introduced in 2015 as a novel treatment for lung cancer. These include two drugs classified as PD-1 inhibitors – Opdivo and Keytruda – that boost the body’s immune system response to cancer by blocking the programmed death-1 (PD-1) protein. PD-1 inhibitors tend to be more effective in men and studies have shown that they prolong disease-free survival in men compared to chemotherapy.

Learn More About Lung Cancer Signs and Symptoms with Baptist Health

Protect yourself by understanding your personal risk factors for lung cancer. Start by taking a Baptist Health Health Risk Assessment today. 

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