Have you had a persistent cough for 3 weeks or more? Tell your doctor.

Posted: 27th Jul 16 10:47 AM

As part of Public Health England’s “Be Clear On Cancer” campaign, GPs are urging people to see their doctor if they have a persistent cough.

At the National Asbestos Helpline, we have also been urging people to get in touch with their doctor if they believe that their cough could be linked to past exposure to asbestos dust and fibres.

What could your cough be?

Everyone is likely to get a cough now and again, but a cough that lasts for 3 or more weeks could be a sign of something more serious.

It has been revealed that as many as 1.7 million people in the UK could be living with an undiagnosed lung condition.

A persistent cough might not necessarily be anything to worry about and it is advised not to try and diagnose yourself – see your doctor to find out for sure.

Could your cough be caused by cancer?

If your cough has lasted 3 weeks or more, it could be a sign of lung cancer. Early detection and diagnosis of lung cancer can be treatable – and in some cases seeing your doctor could potentially save your life.

What symptoms might you show if you have a lung disease?

A persistent cough that has lasted 3 weeks or more is a key symptom of lung disease, including cancer, but other symptoms may be present. These 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, or someone you know, have any of these symptoms, see your doctor as soon as you can, or tell them to make an appointment.

Asbestos exposure and lung disease

Asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma, asbestos-related lung cancer, asbestosis and pleural thickening are not easy to diagnose. The symptoms – such as a persistent cough, breathlessness, chest pains, tiredness and weight loss – are all associated with a great many other lung diseases and other illnesses.

People who have been exposed, or suspect that they have been exposed, to asbestos dust and fibres in their workplace, through the environment, or at home through contact with a family member who had worked with asbestos, should inform their doctor about their exposure and work history. The symptoms of asbestos-related diseases may not become apparent for many decades after their exposure. It usually takes between 10 and 50 years for an individual to develop any symptoms of an asbestos related disease.

Trades which were most at risk from coming into contact with asbestos include:

  • Labourers
  • Pipefitters
  • Plasterers
  • Carpenters
  • Demolition and wrecking crews
  • Insulation workers
  • Roofers
  • Tile setters
  • Ship builders

If you have had, or suspect that you have had, high levels of exposure to asbestos dust and fibres over a number of years and start to show signs of a persistent cough, breathlessness, or any of the symptoms mentioned above, then it is very important that you tell your doctor about both your work history with asbestos and about the symptoms you have been showing.

You may also be entitled to government benefits or compensation due to your exposure to asbestos dust and fibres and the effects it has had on your health, which can help with your treatment, care and family.

Further reading

1.7 million people could be living with an undiagnosed lung cancer in the UK

The role of asbestos in the UK’s high lung cancer rate is being missed and sufferers are losing out

What is asbestos?

Six questions that may establish whether an unexplained lung condition could be asbestos related


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