Don’t Wait. Investigate.

Symptoms of lung disease and lung cancer can be vague and people often put it down to signs of ageing or a lack of fitness. Early diagnosis is critical to receiving best-practice care and treatment. If you are experiencing a persistent, unexplained cough or breathlessness, don't delay seeking medical attention from your GP to investigate.

Impact of COVID-19

Since the start of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak, there have been mixed messages about what activities are essential and nonessential. Understandably, many Australians have been avoiding visiting their GP for general health and wellbeing advice due to fears of transmission of the virus. If you’re experiencing a persistent, unexplained cough or breathlessness and COVID-19 is ruled out through testing, you may put these symptoms down to “tiredness, a touch of the cold, or a dry throat as the weather changes”. However, concerningly, in Australia we have seen a considerable (50%) decrease of GP referrals to lung cancer specialists.

For lung disease and lung cancer, early diagnosis and intervention is critical. A delay in diagnosis can result in the condition becoming more serious or even life-threatening.

So, whilst we must all remain vigilant during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to stay alert to our general wellbeing.

If you have had an unexplained cough that has lasted more than three weeks, please seek immediate advice from a healthcare professional.

50%

decrease in lung cancer referrals from GPs from March to April compared to the same time last year

53%

decrease in lung cancer referrals from hospital emergency departments

47%

of specialists reported delays in timely referrals for diagnostic procedures compared to the same time last year

84.5%

of lung cancer in Australia is diagnosed at advanced stages where survival decreases.

What is a cough?

Coughing is a necessary part of our body’s normal cleaning routine for the lungs. We cough to clear unwanted mucus or phlegm from our airways, and to remove any foreign particles such as dust.

The most common cause of a cough is a viral upper respiratory tract infection or cold. Usually, the cough caused by a cold clears up within three weeks. When coughing lasts longer than this, it may be considered a persistent cough and you should make an appointment with your GP to investigate.

When should I see a doctor?

Coughing becomes a problem when it is unexplained and persistent (for more than three weeks) or when it is accompanied by other symptoms such as breathlessness or results in complications such as pain, fatigue and trouble sleeping. Coughing may indicate the presence of an underlying medical condition. For some people there can be an underlying serious lung disease present, such as lung cancer. It’s important to see your GP to find out why you may be coughing.

You should seek the advice of your GP if you are experiencing any of the following:

  • A persistent cough lasting more than three weeks
  • Coughing up mucus, phlegm or blood
  • Pain or fainting caused by coughing bouts
  • Trouble sleeping at night because of coughing
  • Any worrying symptoms such as breathlessness or chest pain
  • Any concern you may have about the cause of the cough.

Other common symptoms of lung disease and lung cancer are listed below.

Getting more breathless than your peers

Chest tightness or wheeze

Frequent chest infections

Chest pain, fatigue

Sudden, unexplained weight loss

Take two minutes to complete the Lung Health Checklist to identify if you are experiencing any signs or symptoms of lung disease or lung cancer.

Next steps

If you have identified any signs or symptoms listed above, make an appointment to see your GP. Do not delay.

During your appointment, your GP will ask about your symptom history. It is a good idea to think about when you first noticed your symptoms and whether these symptoms have developed or changed over time. This type of information will help to inform your GP when making a diagnosis.

Your GP may perform a physical examination which will include listening to your chest with a stethoscope. You may want to wear loose, comfortable clothing to your appointment.

Based on your physical examination and pattern of symptoms, your doctor will decide if further testing is required. Further tests could include lung function testing (spirometry) or a high-resolution CT scan.

If you have any questions, we are here to help you navigate through and connect you with support services and programs. Contact our Information and Support Centre to find out more, on the free call number 1800 654 301.

For health professionals

GPs and other primary healthcare professionals play a critical role in the early diagnosis of lung disease and lung cancer. There are a number of evidence-based tools and resources to guide you when investigating symptoms such as a persistent cough or breathlessness.
Anyone can get lung disease. It affects almost 1 in 3 Australians. Check your lungs today.

1. IQVIA Medibus, May 2020.