Does a persistent cough indicate lung cancer?

While there may be a variety of medical reasons behind excessive coughing, there is no denying the strong link between a persistent cough and lung cancer. Of all the cancer-related diseases, lung cancer is the biggest killer across the world (accounting for almost 1.4 million deaths in 2008). Since this cancer affects the lungs and airways, unnatural coughing should certainly be investigated by your doctor.

What you should know about lung cancer

Who is mostly affected?

In the UK, the disease is most commonly diagnosed in people between the ages of 70-74 (although there is no need for complacency if you are before this bracket - there have been noticeable rises in cases amongst much younger women). After breast cancer, lung cancer is the most widespread form of the disease in England and Wales, affecting over 40,000 patients annually. The link between lung cancer and smoking is undeniable, with smokers 15 times likelier to die than non-smokers. Smoking is the direct cause of between 85-90% of lung cancers, which is why it is obvious to make the link between a persistent cough and lung cancer.


While coughing is also connected to a variety of lesser ailments, such as colds or flu, any nagging cough lasting for weeks rather than days should cause concern. If this becomes stronger, or worse still, produces blood, or if any breathlessness is experienced, then medical advice should be a priority.

Aside from breathing issues, other things to look out for include:-

  • Lack of energy
  • Constantly feeling tired
  • Weight loss
  • Pain in the chest area or around the shoulderblades
  • Fingers becoming curved or their ends swelling (known as fingerclubbing)
  • Fever (above 38C, or 100.4F)
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Hoarseness

Can lung cancer be treated?

Remember, it is possible to develop lung cancer even if you have never smoked. But the more positive news is that it is curable, no matter the size of the tumours, or even if the cancer has spread. If diagnosis occurs early enough, i.e. a persistent cough was linked to lung cancer, tumours can be removed with surgery. If the cancer reaches stage four (meaning it has spread beyond the lungs), there are options for chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

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