Coughing for three weeks? Get it checked out by your GP

It may be nothing serious, but if you are, or have been a smoker, and are suffering from breathlessness as well, it could be an early symptom of lung cancer.

“The biggest problem we have with the diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer is people not seeking help soon enough,” says Dr. Munesh Mistry. “The earlier you get to see your GP, the earlier we can help or refer you to a specialist if it is something serious such as lung cancer.”

One person who knows better than most the importance of seeing your GP early is Sylvia Burwick. Sylvia, a heavy smoker for more than 30 years, was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2008.

“My family had told me to go to the doctor’s because they could see I wasn’t well,” says Sylvia. “I had given up smoking and developed emphysema and I was being treated for that, but my breathing changed and I was finding the walk to work harder.Then I started to cough up blood and knew something was wrong. My GP sent me for an x-ray and that came back with something there so they sent me to Queen’s. I had a scan done really quickly and it came back that I had lung cancer. I was totally gutted. I’d known something wasn’t right for a long time – you know your own body don’t you? I don’t know how long I’d had it, but they said they had to take part of my lung out and then they found it had spread to my windpipe as well. So I had chemotherapy and radium treatment for nine weeks in blocks of three weeks and though I sailed through that really, I was in a wheelchair and I couldn’t go out. Everybody smoked in the 60s and 70s, but I wish I’d given up earlier because the damage had already been done for me. I’d advise anyone who smokes to stop while you can and if you think something is wrong, go to your GP early. I’m still here, I survived, but the scarring on my lungs has left me disabled.”

Every year 3,500 people in London are diagnosed with lung cancer and 2,900 die from it. But awareness of the symptoms of lung cancer is low with only 18% of people mentioning a cough as a potential symptom – even though it is the most common sign of lung cancer.

Cancer survival rates generally are improving, but lung cancer survival rates are particularly low. The survival rate for people diagnosed early is from 58% to 73% but only one in eight cases is diagnosed this early. Nearly half of all cases are diagnosed at a stage when the survival rate is only between two and 13%.

Also, 90% of lung cancer is caused by smoking or exposure to second hand smoke. Stopping smoking will greatly reduce your risk of lung cancer, and it’s never too late. NHS Stop Smoking Services are free, effective, and available at times and places to suit you. Call Smokefree on 0800 022 4332.

So the message is clear. If you have symptoms – a persistent cough, shortness of breath or you are coughing up blood – go to see your GP now and get the help that you need.

Visit Cancer Research or visit the Smokefree website for help to stop smoking.