What is that Cough? Is it cancer, COVID-19 or a common cold?

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Cancer Australia today launched a new guide to help health professionals correctly identify and investigate symptoms of lung cancer, aiming to diagnose the disease at an earlier stage.

Investigating symptoms of lung cancer: a guide for all health professionals will also support the early and rapid referral of patients into the multidisciplinary diagnostic pathway.

Professor Dorothy Keefe, CEO, Cancer Australia said that during the COVID-19 pandemic it was particularly important to remember that while respiratory symptoms may be due to a common cold, flu or Covid-19, they may also be lung cancer, which is why appropriate investigation is crucial.

“Diagnosing lung cancer can be difficult as the symptoms are often vague and non-specific and similar to other illnesses,” said Professor Keefe.

The symptoms of lung cancer can include coughing up blood, a new or changed cough that doesn’t go away, chest pain, shortness of breath, hoarseness, a persistent or recurrent chest infection, weight loss and tiredness.

“Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer death in Australia, and more than 50% of lung cancers are diagnosed at an advanced stage when treatment is difficult, so identifying lung cancer early is critical to improving survival. It is also one of our biggest challenges,” stated Professor Keefe.

“GPs play a vital role in the identification of lung cancer, so I encourage people with symptoms, particularly a persistent cough or coughing up blood, or a chest infection that doesn’t go away, to contact your GP without delay and discuss your concerns. Remember, they are there for you as usual,” continued Professor Keefe.

In 2020, it is estimated that 9,173 Australians (5,213 males and 3,959 females) will lose their lives to lung cancer. And although lung cancer mostly occurs in people over 60 years, it can affect people of any age, background or population group, regardless of whether they have smoked or not.

The new Guide provides a systematic, step-by-step pathway of actions for primary care health professionals to follow when investigating a patient who may have lung cancer, outlines the timely referral of patients to a multidisciplinary team and emphasises the need for ongoing support for that patient.

Investigating symptoms of lung cancer: a guide for all health professionals is based on the best available evidence and expert consensus of lung cancer clinicians and cancer consumers.

Cancer Australia is also currently conducting an enquiry into a national lung cancer screening rogram in Australia. For more information, visit Cancer Australia’s lung cancer screening enquiry information centre.

For general information on COVID-19, including symptoms, visit the Australian Department of Health website. Cancer Australia has developed a website for people affected by cancer and COVID-19. Please visit the Cancer Australia website for more information about lung cancer