Early detection saves lives
Most lung cancers are diagnosed at an advanced stage. Early diagnosis is key to improving outcomes and health professionals play a central role in ensuring all Australians receive equitable care and treatment. It is important to be alert to symptoms of lung cancer to ensure timely referrals are made for diagnosis and/or treatment services.
Lung cancer is difficult to diagnose early because symptoms are difficult to distinguish from other illnesses. These include:
For patients with few or no risk factors for lung cancer, the challenge is even greater for a GP to link a symptom like persistent cough to the possibility of lung cancer. Persistent symptoms, especially in people with risk factors, must be urgently investigated. Australian guidelines state that a cough lasting for three weeks should prompt further investigations.
I had many months of coughing leading to the diagnosis. Because it was in episodes triggered by cold and stress it behaved very much like an asthmatic attack. So for months I put that off as just something to do with a post viral bronchitis. Then I saw a GP and the chest x-rays were completely normal. So that really lead to a little bit more of a delayed diagnosis for me and it wasn’t until 3 months later when I saw my specialist who, on hearing my story didn’t think it was likely to be cancer either until he saw the cancer on chest CT scans. He too was shocked and he rang me straight away for a biopsy. By that time, my cancer had spread to my lymph nodes, my bones and my liver. I spent months thinking I had asthma when in fact I had this lung cancer growing in me. At the time of getting that chest x-ray, if I was more aware of how possible and plausible for someone who has never smoked to also have such a high risk of lung cancer, I probably would have pushed for my CT scan earlier.
- Improving outcomes for people with lung cancer, 2016