Don't assume a cough is Covid - it could be lung cancer too

3 March 2021

A persistent cough could be a sign of cancer, not just of Covid, and should not be ignored – that’s the message from the Kent and Medway Cancer Alliance.

With Covid still prevalent, it could be easy to assume that a persistent cough which lasts more than three weeks is Covid related.

However, it could also be a sign of lung cancer and should be checked out by a GP as soon as possible, particularly if accompanied by other worrying symptoms.

Experts at the Cancer Alliance, which represents clinicians and providers of cancer care and services in Kent and Medway, say anyone can develop lung cancer:men and women, young and old, smokers and non-smokers.

Early diagnosis

Early diagnosis makes treatment much more likely to be successful. Patients are less likely to survive, when lung cancer is diagnosed in the later stages.

Latest figures show that 57 per cent of patients will survive if their cancer is diagnosed at stage 1 (the earliest stage) compared with just three per cent if diagnosed with late stage (stage 4) lung cancer.

Neil Rankin, from Whitfield, near Dover, developed cancer in both lungs. He had part of one lung removed and then a more aggressive cancer, which was inoperable, developed in the other.

He said: “I was told in November 2018 that I wouldn’t make Christmas if we didn’t do something quickly.

“I have been fortunate. I would say to anyone with symptoms, please go and see your doctor.

“Don’t delay. The quicker you are seen, the quicker you can get the treatment you need.”

Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer death for both men and women. In 2018, in the South East region, 4,055 people died from lung cancer.

Don't hesitate to contact your GP

Dr Sona Gupta, Macmillan GP and Cancer Clinical Lead for Kent and Medway CCG, said: “Please do not dismiss a persistent cough as Covid, particularly if you have tested negative or if a cough lingers for a long time after a positive Covid test.

“Do not hesitate to make an appointment to see us if you have any symptoms of concern. We will not think that you are wasting our time.

“We have introduced a range of measures to make GP practices Covid-secure, for example by offering phone and virtual appointments where clinically appropriate, so you should not be afraid to come forward if you are worried.”

Symptoms of lung cancer

Other symptoms of lung cancer include chest pain, shortness of breath, unusual lumps under the skin on your chest and coughing up blood-stained sputum.

People with lung cancer also often develop a hoarse voice, shoulder pain, may have repeated chest infections, and lose weight when they are not trying to.

Patient safety a priority

Lung cancer is usually detected through scans. Chest X-rays may not pick up lung cancer in the early stages, so if you have an X-ray that is normal, but your symptoms persist, you may need a CT scan to rule out or confirm cancer.

Dr Henry Taylor, Clinical Oncologist and Clinical Lead for the Kent and Medway Cancer Alliance, said: “If you think you might have lung cancer, please don’t delay getting checked out because you are worried about coming into hospital for tests.

“Patient safety is a priority and our hospitals have introduced a range of measures, including Covid-secure wards and Covid-protected cancer surgical services, to ensure that we can continue to give quality care to patients when they need it.”


Patient Neil Rankin encourages anyone with symptoms which could be lung cancer to contact their GP straight away.

Further information: 

NHS website 


Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation. 

Macmillan helpline: 0808 808 0000.

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