NHS leaders are urging people to get checked out if they have a cough that lasts three weeks or more, and isn’t COVID-19, as it could be a sign of lung cancer.

During the pandemic, many people have been putting off seeking medical advice, either because they are worried about being exposed to the virus, or because they don’t want to be a burden on the NHS.

Lung cancer is a particular concern because its most common early warning sign – a persistent new cough – could easily be mistaken for COVID-19.

Dr Angela Morgan, consultant respiratory physician at The Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust, said: “A cough that lasts three weeks or more could have all sorts of causes, and many of them won’t be anything serious, but in some cases it could be an early warning sign of lung cancer.

“The sooner we diagnose cancer, the more treatable it is and the better a person’s chances become. If you have a cough that won’t go away after three weeks, and you know you don’t have coronavirus, please make an appointment with your GP as soon as possible.

“Cancer services continue to be an absolute priority, and hospital staff have been working extremely hard to maintain them throughout the pandemic and keep our premises COVID-safe. The NHS is here to see you, safely.”

Anyone who develops a persistent new cough should immediately self-isolate and book a COVID-19 test. If the test is negative and the cough doesn’t go away after three weeks, it’s time to seek further advice.

Other symptoms of lung cancer, which may occur with or without a cough, include:

  • Chest infections that keep coming back
  • Coughing up blood
  • A long-standing cough gets worse
  • An ache or pain when breathing or coughing
  • Persistent breathlessness
  • Persistent tiredness or lack of energy
  • Loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss.

For more information, visit nhs.uk/cancersymptoms.

Jim's story

Fit, healthy, and recently retired from running his own chain of health food shops, Jim Mawdsley didn’t take much notice of the irritating cough that he developed at the beginning of 2020.

Although his wife Vivienne had been urging him to get checked, it was a bout of pneumonia some weeks later that sent Jim to Wolverhampton's New Cross Hospital, where investigations revealed that he had stage 2 lung cancer.

Jim Mawdsley (2).jpgJim (pictured right), now 77, was immediately started on treatment, and says he noticed almost no impact from having his treatment during the pandemic.

He said: “A year ago it was the start of coronavirus, so it’s been a long, difficult year for everyone. But the staff at Royal Wolverhampton have been excellent and everything has run on time, no hold-ups or difficulties at all.

“For me it’s been good having meetings with the oncologist on the phone, as it meant not having to go into hospital with my reduced immune system so much.

“I particularly want to thank the lung nurses team at New Cross, who have kept in touch throughout, checking on me and answering our questions. It has been an invaluable help and reassuring at a difficult time.”

Although the gruelling regime of chemotherapy followed by radiotherapy was difficult to go through, Jim feels the early start to his treatment has helped give him a fighting chance.

He said: “It’s different for everybody, but I felt worse with the radiotherapy. I can’t do much physical activity as I feel tired and get out of breath more easily, but I still enjoy cooking and walking, and we’ve booked a holiday to Scarborough later in the year.

“I would say to anybody who has any symptoms, don’t put it off. I was a typical man and I ignored mine. They caught it at stage 2, but if I hadn’t had pneumonia when I did and had the x-rays it would have progressed.

“Most of the time it will be just a cough, but you want to be able to do something if it’s not. My only regret is not getting sorted a couple of months earlier.”