When you have a cough in this day and age, it can cause alarm and anxiety. This symptom can be particularly worrisome if you smoke or have a family history of lung disease or cancer. While you cannot precisely tell whether or not you have cancer, based on just your cough, here are some important signs, symptoms, and things you can do if you think you may have lung cancer.
What is a Typical Lung Cancer Cough?
Specific characteristics are related to lung cancer. For example, suppose any of the following symptoms accompany your cough. In that case, you may have lung cancer and need to consult your doctor.
- Chronic cough or cough that lasts longer than two months
- Dry or productive (expels mucus) cough
- Cough that interrupts your sleep
- Coughing up blood
- Chest pain when you cough
- Shortness of breath
- Recurrent bronchitis or pneumonia
While you might not experience all of these symptoms, having a good number of them will lead your doctor to suspect lung cancer. It is vital that you completely and accurately describe the symptoms you are experiencing. This way, it will be easier to determine the exact cause of your cough, and you can receive the appropriate treatment.
What causes lung cancer?
Smoking is the most common cause of lung cancer. However, you can also develop lung cancer even if you do not smoke. Here are some of the other common causes of lung cancer:
- Smoking – accounts for 70% of cases and contains 60 different toxic substances; it also increases your risk for esophageal and mouth cancer.
- Passive smoking – frequent exposure to other people’s tobacco smoke or secondhand smoking can increase your risk of developing lung cancer.
- Radon – this is a radioactive gas found in nature such as rocks and soils. It also has a more artificial presence, in old buildings.
- Occupational exposure and pollution – chemicals and substances like arsenic, asbestos, coal, and silica can cause lung cancer.
Knowing the harmful effect of these substances can help you take measures to counter them. For example, one easy and effective way to lower your risk of lung cancer is by quitting your smoking habit. Whereas, if you need to handle the mentioned toxic substances, it is fundamental to employ appropriate safety uniforms and equipment. These measures are simple but can greatly reduce your risk of developing lung cancer. You also protect those around you by limiting your exposure to these harmful substances.
What are the signs and symptoms?
Early detection makes a huge difference in the treatment of cancer. This is why it is essential that you immediately consult your doctor if you experience any of the following signs and symptoms of lung cancer:
- Persistent cough or cough that worsens over time
- Coughing up blood or rust-colored sputum
- Chest pain that worsens when you cough, breathe deeply or laugh
- Lose your appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
- Feeling tired or weak
- Shortness of breath
Since this is cancer, malignant cells might gain the ability to spread from your lungs to other parts of your body. These cancer cell migrations are called metastases and may manifest as bone pain (or pain in the back and hips), changes in your nervous system (headache, weakness in your arms and legs, dizziness, problems with balance), yellowing of skin and eyes (jaundice), and lymph nodes. Be on the lookout for these symptoms as they can alert your doctor to the possible spread of the disease.
How will my doctor treat this?
Your doctor will probably request several tests to determine if it is indeed lung cancer. These tests include a pulmonary function test, blood test, chest x-ray, CT scan, PET scan, and bronchoscopy or biopsy. With the aid of these diagnostic tools, your doctor will be able to confirm the presence or absence of cancer, narrow down the specific cause and extent of your lung cancer.
Once your doctor confirms the presence of lung cancer, they can then start appropriate treatment. Treatment will involve other specialists and a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy. The optimal approach on the type of lung cancer you have, its size and position, how advanced it is (stage), and your overall health. For example, multidisciplinary oncological teams can manage lung cancers with lower stages by performing surgery and administering chemotherapy. This combination has proven effective in some cases because it prevents cancerous cells from growing back. In contrast, teams usually treat lung cancers in higher stages (usually spread too broadly in the body) with chemotherapy or immunotherapy.
The multidisciplinary teams tailor the treatment to the particular molecular weaknesses of the cancer type and the patient’s health status. If you are a patient, do not hesitate to ask your doctor questions or raise any concerns or apprehensions you may have about treatment.
How do I prevent lung cancer?
You cannot (with the technology currently available) reprogram your genes, especially if you have a family history of lung cancer. But there is always something you can do. Namely, the best way to prevent lung cancer is to stop smoking, which pretty quickly helps to cough less. Not only do you decrease your risk of getting serious illnesses, but your chances of developing lung cancer reduces by half after you have stopped smoking for ten years. Apart from this, here are other ways you can prevent lung cancer:
- A balanced diet – low-fat, high-fiber, fresh fruits and vegetables with plenty of wholegrains
- Regular exercise – at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity per week
- Adequate sleep
- Stress management techniques
Employing these simple but effective measures will definitely go a long way in preventing lung cancer. If you experience any of the previously mentioned symptoms, consult your doctor right away.