If you’ve been coughing for 3 weeks or more, tell your doctor.

Dr Ian Watson

If you've had a cough for three weeks or more, tell your doctor. It's probably nothing serious, but you're not wasting anyone's time by getting it checked out. Call your GP today.

What could it be?

Everyone gets a cough now and then, but a cough that lasts for three weeks or more could be a sign of something more serious, such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), which is a form of lung disease.

A persistent cough might not be anything serious, but don't try and diagnose yourself, see your doctor to find out for sure.

Could it be cancer?

A cough that has lasted three weeks or more can also be a sign of lung cancer, which is why it's so important to see your doctor. Early detection makes it easier to treat. Seeing your doctor could save your life.

I would urge anybody with symptoms that might be lung cancer, like a persistent cough, to go and see their doctor straight away.

Ann Long, aged 80

Symptoms of lung disease, including lung cancer

A cough that has lasted three weeks or more is a key symptom of lung disease, including lung cancer, but other symptoms include:

  • a cough that has got worse or changes
  • frequent chest infections
  • coughing up blood
  • chest or shoulder pain
  • breathlessness
  • feeling more tired than usual for some time
  • losing weight for no obvious reason, or loss of appetite

If you have any of these symptoms, see your GP as soon as possible. If you know anyone who has any of these symptoms, insist they see their doctor.

What will happen at my GP appointment?

You're not wasting anyone's time by getting your symptoms checked out.

Before you visit your GP, it may help to write down your symptoms and how you feel so you don't forget anything on your visit.

At your appointment, your doctor may ask you some questions, such as how long you have had your symptoms and whether they have changed over time.

Your doctor may suggest some tests such as a chest x-ray, blood tests and lung function tests. These are all standard procedures and nothing to worry about.

 

Hear from our GPs

Find out what to expect when you see your doctor – watch the video.

About lung disease, including cancer

Lung disease covers a number of conditions, including lung cancer, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder) and asthma. COPD is the name for a group of lung diseases where people have difficulty breathing, often with frequent coughing. It includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

There are over 1 million people in England who have been diagnosed with COPD. Lung cancer and COPD are the main causes of death from lung disease in England.

Lung cancer is one of the most common cancers in England, with around 36,500 new cases every year. It affects people of all ages, but is most common in those over 50. Although lung cancer is more common in smokers, around one in eight people with lung cancer has never smoked.

Reduce your risk

A healthy lifestyle can help you reduce your risk of lung disease, including lung cancer. Some ways to stay healthy are:

  • stop smoking – if you smoke, the best thing you can do for your health is to quit. There's plenty of support available from the NHS. Visit nhs.uk/smokefree or call 0300 123 1044.
  • look after yourself – try to maintain a healthy weight and keep active. Swimming, cycling, dancing, walking – the more you can do, the better. Try to eat a healthy, balanced diet too, with plenty of fruit and vegetables.
  • cut down on alcohol – drinking too much alcohol can lead to a number of health problems. By drinking less, you'll reduce your health risks.

For more information on how to reduce your risk of cancer, visit nhs.uk/reduce-your-risk.

Content last reviewed: June 2016

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