Health: Warnings that cough could spell cancer

An x-ray of a person with lung cancer.
An x-ray of a person with lung cancer.
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As winter sets in, it’s the time for colds and coughs to do the rounds.

Often it’s those coughs which outlast the other symptoms of viruses, sometimes hanging around for weeks afterwards.

But Macmillan Cancer Support, along with the NHS, are urging people to watch out for persistent coughs.

A cough lasting more than three weeks can be one of the symptoms of lung cancer, and during November – Lung Cancer Awareness Month – specialists are trying to make more people aware of the signs.

John White, lead macmillan lung cancer nurse specialist based at the Leeds Cancer Centre at St James’s Hospital said: “Nearly 120 people receive a diagnosis of lung cancer every day in the UK, and whilst the survival rates are poor, the important thing to remember is that if caught early enough it is treatable.”

He said that 77 per cent of lung cancer patients were unaware of the signs and symptoms, which that means many are being diagnosed too late to be cured.

“It’s really vital that more people are educated – getting people to their GP’s when symptoms occur could mean earlier diagnosis and a better prognosis.”

And though one of the major risk factors for the illness is smoking, it can also affect non-smokers.

“There is also a misconception that lung cancer only affects smokers but this isn’t the case – in fact more than one in ten cases are not linked to smoking at all,” John added.

“It’s important for everyone to know the facts.”

A Leeds pensioner knows just how important it is to get checked out if anything seems to be wrong.

Ray Whincup was 60 in 1998 and was very fit, going to the gym very regularly after taking redundancy from his job as a bank inspector eight years earlier.

However he had noticed he was coughing up a small amount of blood, and the cough itself was lingering.

The father-of-two, who lives in Rothwell with his wife Hazel, visited his GP, underwent tests and then was given the news that he had lung cancer.

He underwent surgery in Leeds to have a lung removed, an operation which may have saved his life.

Ray, now 77, said: “Lung cancer doesn’t necessarily mean the end – I’m living proof of that because it’s now 16 years since I was diagnosed. I had my right lung removed in 1998 and I haven’t looked back – life is just at a slower pace than it used to be.

“My advice to anyone who thinks they have any signs or symptoms of lung cancer is to just go straight to your GP and get yourself checked out.”

Since his surgery, he has become closely involved with a group helping other patients, Leeds Lung Cancer and Mesothelioma Patient Support.

Ray added: “When people are diagnosed with lung cancer, they can be quite traumatised because they think they are going to die. Having the support of others goes a long way to help get through it.”

He says that if he had ignored the blood he spotted, he may well not have survived.

In Leeds, about 500 people a year are diagnosed with lung cancer amd it is believed that in general, three-quarters of patients are not diagnosed until the disease is already in the advanced stages and much harder to treat. Many don’t live for more than a year after receiving their diagnosis.

Dr Mat Callister, consultant respiratory physician from Leeds Teaching Hospitals, said: “Lung cancer is one of the most common and serious types of cancer in the UK. This is why it’s hugely important for people to be aware of the symptoms and that they visit their GP as soon as they notice something is wrong.

“Like all cancers early diagnosis is vital and improves the chance of survival significantly. When lung cancer is diagnosed in its early stages, there are more treatment options and treatment is likely to be more successful.”

* Over 50s living in Leeds who have had any of the symptoms of lung cancer can attend a free walk-in screening service at Seacroft Hospital or St George’s Centre in Middleton without an appointment.

Anyone aged under 50 who has had a cough for more than three weeks should speak to their GP or call NHS 111.

Possible lung cancer signs:

a continuing cough, or change in a long-standing cough, or pain when coughing

becoming breathless and wheezy

coughing up bloodstained phlegm

chest or shoulder pain

a chest infection that doesn’t get better

difficulty swallowing

feeling extremely tired and lethargic or weight loss

the ends of fingers becoming larger or looking more rounded

swelling of lymph nodes in the neck area

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