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Persistent Cough or Lung Cancer: When Should You Be Concerned?

Many people experience a nagging cough at some point in their lives, usually without major complications. However, a persistent cough can be a symptom of lung cancer. Coughing helps the lungs clear potential germs and dangerous objects from the airways. A cough that lasts for weeks or even months can indicate something serious. Sometimes it’s lung cancer.

This article explores the link between a cough and lung cancer, when to see a doctor, and what treatment options are available.

cough and lung cancer

There are many reasons for a cough, and many of them are not serious and will go away on their own. Although a cough does not usually indicate the presence of lung cancer, a persistent cough at the time of diagnosis is a common symptom of lung cancer. A 2020 study of people with lung cancer found that 54% of participants who were not treated had a cough, compared to 40% of those treated.

How do you know if a cough is lung cancer?

There is no way to diagnose lung cancer based on lung cancer symptoms alone, much less the presence of a cough alone. A 2019 study of people with lung cancer found that the severity of the cough did not correlate with the severity of the disease.

However, certain characteristics of cough are linked to lung cancer risk, including:

– a persistent cough that does not go away or gets worse over time
– Coughing up blood or brown or red mucus
– Cough in a person with a history of smoking
– frequent respiratory infections such as pneumonia and bronchitis
– Cough associated with wheezing or shortness of breath
– a cough that produces a lot of thin phlegm.

Conversely, a normal cough usually occurs in response to an irritant, illness, or virus:

– appears in response to an irritant such as smoke or an object lodged in the throat
– occurs as part of a short-term illness that disappears
– may or may not produce slime, but does not usually produce large amounts of blood or dark slime.

A cough that persists for no apparent reason or an illness that doesn’t go away can indicate lung cancer. Avoiding smoking or quitting smoking can reduce the risk of many cough diseases, including lung cancer.

Other symptoms of lung cancer

A persistent or worsening cough is not the only symptom of lung cancer. Other symptoms of this disease are:

– wheezing and difficulty breathing
– hoarseness
– Difficulty swallowing or speaking
– Loss of appetite
– unexplained weight loss
– fatigue
– Swelling of the face or neck

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is another serious condition that commonly affects smokers.

Causes of cough

Cough can have many causes. For example, a short-lived cough can be the result of:

– an infection, such as a cold or pneumonia
– an allergy such as hay fever
– Inhalation of dust, smoke or dirt
– Throat irritation from food
– a dry throat due to dehydration

The following factors can also lead to a persistent or chronic cough:

– a long-standing infection of the respiratory tract, such as B. chronic bronchitis
– a long-term respiratory disease such as asthma or COPD
– Smoking
– Dysphagia, a condition that affects swallowing and can cause feelings of choking
– Neurological disorders such as dementia that affect the cough reflex
– Bronchiectasis, which is a widening of the airways in the lungs
– postnasal drip, which occurs when mucus triggers a cough by dripping down the throat, usually due to a cold or allergy
– Gastroesophageal reflux, where stomach acid flows back up the esophagus or esophagus and causes irritation.
– Medicines such as angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors used to treat high blood pressure and heart disease.

When to contact a doctor

Most coughs subside or go away within 3 to 8 weeks. However, it is important to seek advice from a doctor if the cough is prolonged or if it occurs at the same time as other symptoms, such as: B. Coughing up blood. The doctor can determine the cause of the cough and initiate appropriate treatment if necessary.
Not everyone with lung cancer has a cough. For example, Pancoast tumors grow at the top of the lungs and don’t cause a cough.

diagnosis

When examining a person with a persistent cough, the doctor may first ask about:

– Family and personal medical history
– the duration of the cough
– what kind of cough it is
– when it is most likely to occur
– all other symptoms.
The doctor will also perform a physical exam. He will listen to the person’s heart and lungs, looking for other possible causes of the cough, such as: B. Signs of infection or postnasal drip.

Depending on the results, the doctor may order additional tests, such as B. Imaging procedures:

– Imaging tests: These include a chest X-ray, a CT scan, and an MRI scan.
– Blood tests: Doctors often do a complete blood count and evaluate other cancer markers in the blood.
– Sputum analysis: The person may be asked to provide sputum samples.
– Biopsy: Medical professionals can take tissue samples by inserting a needle into accessible tumors.
– Bronchoscopy: In this test, a healthcare professional inserts a small tube through your nose and into your lungs. A small tissue sample can be taken for analysis using the same tool.

Some cancers are more aggressive than others. This affects the outlook and treatment. If the diagnosis is lung cancer, a team of specialists will do further tests to determine the extent of its spread.

treatment

When a person is diagnosed with lung cancer, the doctor will discuss a treatment plan with them. These plans vary from person to person. The doctor will consider the type of cancer, age, and general health of the person, among other things.

Treatment options include:

Surgery: If the cancer is localized, a surgeon can remove part of the lung. He may also remove nearby lymph nodes.

Radiation Therapy: A machine aims a beam at malignant cells. This helps kill cancer cells to shrink the tumor before surgery or remove any remaining cells after surgery.

Chemotherapy: It can kill cancer cells, but it can also have serious adverse effects on healthy cells.

Targeted therapy: These drugs target specific genes, proteins, and other factors that contribute to cancer development. They aim to stop or delay the growth of cancer.

Certain lifestyle changes can help improve your outlook even after a diagnosis. These include:

– smoking cessation
– Make sure you eat a balanced diet
– do sports regularly

If the cancer has spread extensively, it may not be able to be removed or cured. The doctor may recommend palliative care, including radiation therapy, to prevent further complications and treat symptoms.

Support and self-care strategies

Living with lung cancer can be difficult, regardless of the type of cancer. The following strategies can help:

Adopt a healthy lifestyle that includes moderate exercise, healthy eating, and stress management. This can help the person feel better and reduce the risk of additional symptoms.

Discuss the risks and benefits of treatment with a doctor. Some treatments prolong life but do not cure the cancer and can make the person very ill.

Ask your doctor about anti-fatigue medications. Many people with lung cancer struggle with fatigue and may not be relieved by self-care strategies alone.

Talk to a doctor about symptoms, including side effects of cancer treatment. Often, medication or lifestyle changes can reduce the severity of these symptoms.

outlook

The outlook for lung cancer depends on various factors, such as:

– Age and general health of the person
– the stage of the cancer at the time of diagnosis
– the type of cancer.

Early-stage cancer is easier to treat and more likely to have a positive outcome than later-stage cancer.

For people with non-small cell lung cancer, the odds of living at least 5 years after diagnosis are:

63% when the cancer is localized, meaning it is always in the original location.
35% if it is regional, that is, if it has spread to neighboring tissues
7% if it has spread to more distant parts of the body
25% overall

For small cell lung cancer, the average 5-year survival rates are as follows:

27% for localized cancer
16% if the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes
3% when it reaches distant parts of the body
7% overall

prevention

Anyone with a persistent cough accompanied by chest pain, shortness of breath, or coughing up blood should see a doctor. In the case of lung cancer, the outlook is better if the person is consulted immediately. This means the cancer has less time to spread. Lung cancer can develop without any apparent cause. However, exposure to certain substances and certain lifestyle habits can increase the risk of lung cancer. One of the most important prevention methods is to avoid smoking and exposure to second-hand cigarette smoke. One study estimates that smoking could be the cause of 90% of all lung cancer cases.

People can reduce their risk of developing lung cancer by avoiding other cancer-causing substances, such as asbestos. Carcinogens are chemicals that can make cells more susceptible to cancer. Eating a healthy diet, achieving or maintaining a moderate weight, and regular exercise can also reduce the risk of lung cancer.

Sources

de Groot, PM, et al. (2018). The epidemiology of lung cancer.

Harle, ASM et al. (2019). Cough in patients with lung cancer: a longitudinal observational study of characterization and clinical observations [Abstract].

Harle, A., et al. (2020). A cross-sectional study to determine the prevalence of cough and its impact in patients with lung cancer: An unmet patient need.

* Presse Santé strives to convey health knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE can the information given replace the advice of a doctor.

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