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A worrisome cough that just won’t go away might send you to the doctor, and rightly so. A cough that keeps getting worse could be a sign of lung cancer, or several other serious health issues. But there are other less-obvious signs and symptoms of lung cancer, and paying attention to them could save your life or that of a loved one.
“One of the reasons lung cancer claims more lives than any other type of cancer is that people often aren’t diagnosed until it is advanced and treatment options are limited,” says Joan H. Schiller, M.D., president of Free to Breathe, a lung cancer research and advocacy organization. “If you are over 55 and currently smoke or have smoked heavily in the past, you should talk to your doctor about getting screened for lung cancer while the disease is still curable.”
Lung cancer claims more than 160,000 lives in the United States every year – more than breast, colon and prostate cancers combined. Free to Breathe urges you to pay attention to the symptoms of lung cancer by remembering a simple acronym, BREATHE, which stands for:
* Blood when you cough or spit – Coughing or spitting up blood, even if it’s only a tiny amount, should prompt a visit to your doctor.
* Recurring respiratory infections – If you’ve had bronchitis or pneumonia repeatedly, it could mean a tumor is making you prone to infections.
* Enduring cough that is new or different – A cough from a cold or flu will go away in a few weeks. If it lingers, or changes – it’s happening more often, is coarser or you’re coughing up more mucus – it’s time to call the doctor.
* Ache or pain in the shoulder, back or chest – Up to half of people with lung cancer have pain in the shoulder, back or chest.
* Trouble breathing – Shortness of breath can be caused by a tumor present in the lungs. If you’re increasingly winded or short of breath, see your doctor.
* Hoarseness or wheezing – Lung cancer can cause you to wheeze when you breathe, as well as develop a hoarse voice. Hoarseness and wheezing can be associated with colds, but if it doesn’t go away in a week or two, see your doctor.
* Exhaustion, weakness or loss of appetite – These are common symptoms of many types of cancer.
Other symptoms of lung cancer include swelling of the face or neck, difficulty swallowing or unexplained weight loss. If you or a loved one experiences any of these symptoms, be sure to visit your doctor.
Free to Breathe is dedicated to doubling lung cancer survival by 2022. You can join the movement at a Free to Breathe run/walk, yogathon or other event near you. For more information, visit freetobreathe.org.