Don't ignore the signs of a continuous cough – it could be lung cancer, warns Dr Zoe

IT has been drilled into us all that a new and persistent cough is a symptom of Covid.

I am sure I’m not alone in apologising when I’ve coughed in public, followed quickly by a reassuring: “It’s not Covid.”

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Given the past year, it is unsurprising if we are acutely aware of any cough or splutter – and it is only natural if our first thought is of Covid.

If you notice a cough as well as the other classic symptoms – a high temperature and a loss of taste and/or smell – it is highly likely those are caused by coronavirus. The best thing to do is get a test to be sure.

But if your test result is negative and your cough persists, the NHS is urging people to act.

The Help Us, Help You lung cancer campaign, which launched this week, warns that almost half of us don’t realise a cough that lasts for longer than three weeks could be a sign of lung cancer.

The message is this: If you don’t have Covid but you do have a cough that isn’t getting better, see your GP. In most cases, it won’t be cancer. But that is a possibility.

You might be thinking: “But I don’t smoke . . . so it can’t be lung cancer.” Yes, the disease – the most common cause of cancer death in the country – is much more common among smokers.

But there has been a rise in the number of non-smokers diagnosed, which is why it is vital you don’t dismiss a cough or any of the other common symptoms.

Don't ignore any signs

As with all cancers, the message is clear: The most dangerous mistake you can make is to ignore any signs, hoping they will go away.

The earlier any cancer is diagnosed, lung cancer included, the easier it is to treat. And the higher your chances are of surviving.

A cough that lasts longer than three weeks is often one of the earliest warning signs. But there are other common symptoms of lung cancer. They include:

  •  A long-standing cough that gets worse
  • Chest infections that keep coming back
  • Coughing up blood 
  • An ache or pain when breathing or coughing
  • Persistent breathlessness
  • Persistent tiredness or lack of energy
  • Loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss
  • Other less common signs include:
  •  Finger clubbing, where your nails become more curved or larger
  • Difficulty or pain when swallowing
  • Wheezing
  • A hoarse voice
  • Swelling of the face or neck
  •  Persistent chest or shoulder pain

Now, it can be hard to judge when a cough is a cause for concern. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the case that you are constantly coughing all day. If it won’t seem to shift and is getting worse, speak to your doctor.

It is also worth mentioning that if you are the person with the cough, you might stop noticing it. So do listen if family or friends mention you are coughing a lot – and keep an eye on your loved ones too.

If you spot someone is coughing more than usual, gently let them know and ask if they have had it checked out.

At the moment there are different ways of seeing your GP. It could be via email, phone or video call.

If your GP thinks your cough requires further investigation, they will get you in to listen to your chest and can always refer you for an X-ray.

If you call your GP surgery, don’t be afraid to drop the “C word”. Tell the receptionist that is why you are worried. It is helpful for them to know.

If you are worried, call us. Your GP will want to hear from you – and will want to help.

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