When a cough could be a sign of lung cancer

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, so it’s an ideal time to remind ourselves of the early signs and symptoms we should look out for and when we should see our GP.

According to Cancer Research UK, lung cancer is England’s biggest cancer killer. It has one of the lowest survival rates of any cancer because more than two-thirds of people affected by it are diagnosed at a late stage, when the treatment that could extend their lives is less likely to be successful.

Here are some key facts from Cancer Research UK you may not already know:

  • There are around 46,700 new lung cancer cases in the UK each year (that’s almost 130 every day).
  • Lung cancer is the third most common cancer in the UK (it’s the second most common cancer in men and in women).
  • One in 13 men and one in 15 women in the UK will be diagnosed with lung cancer in their lifetime.
  • Almost eight out of 10 lung cancer cases in the UK are preventable.

Are you at risk?

Anyone can develop lung cancer, but 97 per cent of people diagnosed in England are aged 50 and older. By far the biggest cause is smoking, which is responsible for more than eight out of 10 lung cancers in the UK. So if you smoke, if you used to smoke or if you’ve been exposed to second-hand smoke, you have an increased risk of developing the disease.

According to Cancer Research UK, other causes or risk factors include:

  • Exposure to radon gas
  • Exposure to certain chemicals in the workplace
  • A history of other lung diseases such as tuberculosis
  • A family history of lung cancer
  • Cancer treatment for other types of cancer
  • A lowered immune system

What are the symptoms?

If you’ve had a cough for three weeks or longer, it could be a sign that you have a problem, so don’t put off seeing your GP about it. You can also talk to your local Careway pharmacist if you’re worried or not sure, and they will refer you to your GP if they think it’s necessary.

However there are other possible symptoms, including the following:

  • A cough that has become worse or has changed (more painful, for example)
  • Repeated chest infections
  • Coughing up blood
  • Breathlessness
  • An ache or pain in the chest or shoulder that has lasted some time

If you’ve noticed any of these symptoms, see your GP. Don’t put it off because you’re worried you may be wasting your doctor’s time. Chances are it won’t be anything serious. But if it is, the earlier it’s diagnosed, the easier it will be to treat.

How to reduce your risk

If you’re a smoker, the most important thing you can do to prevent lung cancer as well as other serious conditions is to stop smoking as soon as you can. Even if you’ve been smoking for years it’s still worth quitting, as each year you don’t smoke makes your risk of getting lung cancer smaller (when you’ve been smoke free for 10 years, your chances of developing lung cancer drops to half that of someone who smokes, says the NHS).

Other things you can do to help prevent lung cancer include eating a low-fat, high-fibre diet with at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day and plenty of whole grains. The NHS also says there’s strong evidence that exercising regularly can lower your risk of developing lung cancer, as well as other types of cancer (aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week).

Your Careway pharmacist can give you lots of advice and support if you’re trying to quit smoking – ask at your local Careway pharmacy today. Find your nearest Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.