Sussex GP’s warning that a persistent cough can be a sign of lung cancer, as diagnosis rates at local hospitals fall

Doctors have issued a stark warning that a persistent cough may be a sign of lung cancer or other serious lung condition.

Monday, 22nd February 2021, 10:01 am
Updated Monday, 22nd February 2021, 10:02 am

Experts have spoken out after concerns that people are assuming their cough is linked to Covid-19, and they are missing out on early diagnosis of other illnesses.

GP partner at Mid Sussex Healthcare Dr Jo Thomson told this newspaper: “We have noticed in the Sussex area that people are not coming forward as often as we would expect them to with their coughs. It is really worrying as we could be missing people who have a serious lung condition such as lung cancer.

“We have also noticed that the lung cancer diagnosis rates in local hospitals have also dropped off and that is a reflection of people not coming forward to primary care with their symptoms and certainly not early enough as well as they are assuming their cough is related to Covid.

Dr Jo Thomson SUS-210222-071756001

“However, if they have a persistent cough which goes on for a period of time, longer than three weeks, and they haven’t got Covid, that is something that would ring alarm bells for needing further investigation.

“The doors to GP practices may appear closed for Covid reasons but we want to reassure people that we are open, we are still here, we are at the end of the phone and we will be bring them in if needed and it is safe to do so. And the same goes for the hospitals which have put in safety measures. Chest X-rays are still being done so people will be able to have the tests they need.”

Her comments echo the message from top cancer doctor Professor Peter Johnson, National Clinical Director for Cancer for NHS England and Consultant at University Hospital Southampton.

He said: “If you have had a negative Covid test but are still coughing after three weeks, do not delay – you must come forward to get a lung cancer check. Otherwise we are going to see people with cancer that’s become more advanced and much harder to treat.

“It is understandable that people haven’t wanted to trouble the health service during the pandemic or have been worried about attending appointments because of the Covid risk. However, the risk of a cancer that you don’t pay attention to is much greater than the risk of coronavirus. GP practices have introduced a series of measures to make them Covid-safe. The NHS is open and ready to see anyone with a concerning symptom – it could save your life.”

Lung cancer is the third most common cancer in England with 5752 people in the South East diagnosed each year. Finding lung cancer early, like other cancers, makes it more treatable. Research commissioned by the NHS found half of people in South East England do not know that a persistent cough for more than three weeks can be a lung cancer symptom.