Lung cancer symptom may be masked by COVID

People urged to get coughs checked out
  • Deborah Condon

Concern has been expressed that a key symptom of lung cancer may be masked by COVID-19 and the flu, leading to delayed diagnoses in some people.

Lung cancer is Ireland's biggest cancer killer and early detection is vital. However, lung cancer referrals are down by 9% compared to last year.

A common symptom of the disease is a persistent cough - one that lasts longer than three weeks. A sudden change in a cough that you have had for a long time can also be a symptom.

However, a cough is also one of the main symptoms of COVID-19, so some people may not consider cancer as a potential cause. To tackle this, the Marie Keating Foundation has launched the world's first cough checker phoneline as part of its ‘Big Check Up' campaign.

This campaign aims to encourage early detection of lung cancer in Ireland, which would ultimately lead to better survival rates. Research by the National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP) earlier this year suggests that one barrier to people seeing their GP with symptoms of lung cancer is that they do not want to waste the doctor's time.

It also found that 35% of people were not confident that they would notice a symptom of lung cancer,

The free cough checker phoneline will allow callers to hear advice from a GP on any suspicious cough they may have. It also includes advice on lung cancer, COVID-19 and flu.

According to Dr Una Kennedy, a GP advisor with the NCCP who voices the cough checker phoneline, it is essential that everyone understands how important it is to speak to a GP if you are concerned about a constant cough or other symptoms, such as appetite loss, unexplained weight loss, breathlessness and fatigue.

"We know people are cocooning or isolating from others at the moment, so they may be unsure about contacting their GP. However, routine health care is still being provided by GPs during the pandemic. GPs are here to help and no matter what type of cough it is, the earlier it is diagnosed the better the outcome," Dr Kennedy said.

The CEO of the Marie Keating Foundation, Liz Yeates, described lung cancer as "extremely sneaky".

"This year it is hiding behind COVID-19 and flu, making it more dangerous than ever to ignore concerns. Our new phoneline will give people the confidence to know it is okay to call their GP and to get ‘that' cough checked out," she commented.

The Big Check Up campaign wants to encourage the Irish public to check up on their family and friends this coughing season, and encourage them to take notice of any cough and get it checked by their GP.

The cough checker phoneline can be reached on 1800 268 447 or for more information on this campaign, click here.

*Pictured is broadcaster and author, Maia Dunphy, who launched the campaign


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