Lung Foundation urges Australians to act on persistent cough

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Lung Foundation Australia has launched a new campaign supported by AstraZeneca that is encouraging Australians to talk to their GP if they have a persistent, unexplained cough that has lasted more than three weeks.

The campaign - ‘What if your cough isn’t just a cough?’ – says this persistent cough is critical if other symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath or chest discomfort are also present, even if they are mild.

Consumer research based on responses by more than 1,000 Australians shows that one-in-three would put off investigating a persistent cough of self-diagnose. This is despite it being a possible early sign of lung cancer.

According to Lung Foundation CEO Mark Brooke, “Importantly, our research shows us that over 60 per cent of Australians did not know that a persistent cough should be checked if it has lasted three weeks or more. This is a key knowledge gap which we need to fill. Diagnosing lung cancer in its early stage is critical to improving survival rates, hence our message today via ‘What if your cough isn’t just a cough?’, is to act without delay.”

“Not all lung cancers are made equal, and not all of those who are diagnosed experience the same symptoms. A cough is only one of a number of potential symptoms of lung cancer. Others include breathlessness, fatigue, pain in the chest, coughing up blood, and weight loss. If you notice any new, persistent or changed symptoms speak to your GP. This is particularly important if you have any risk factors such as history of smoking, occupation exposure to asbestos, dust or chemicals, or if you are aged over 40. We don’t want any Australian self-diagnosing or dismissing potential symptoms of lung cancer. Early investigation by a health professional is key,” he said.

At just 20 per cent, lung cancer has the lowest five-year survival rate of the five most commonly diagnosed cancers.

More than half of Australians (53 per cent) are diagnosed with lung cancer at stage four, where life expectancy is just 19 per cent after 12 months. If diagnosed early, five-year survival increases to up to 91 per cent. 

Lung Foundation said the new consumer research reveals that 40 per cent of the general public are unsure of why lung cancer should be diagnosed early.

The new radio and social media campaign will target the top lung cancer ‘hotspots’ in the country, with new data pointing to those areas with the highest incidence rates of lung cancer, as well as those where new diagnoses and referrals have been most impacted by the pandemic.

According to Professor Christine Jenkins AM, chair of Lung Foundation Australia, we all have a role to play in encouraging our friends and loved ones to act on a persistent cough, as well as ourselves.

“Our research shows us that over 60% of Aussies would be more likely to encourage a loved one or friend to get a persistent cough checked, more so than themselves, and that just 40% of Aussies would get a persistent cough checked if they were encouraged to do so by a loved one or friend. It is clear that we each have a responsibility to listen out for and encourage each other to take our lung health seriously.”

“If you notice a persistent, unexplained cough in anyone around you, be that a friend, colleague, or loved one – encourage them to act on it. It is always best to seek advice from a healthcare expert and rule out anything serious,” said Professor Jenkins.

“For the vast majority of us, a new cough will not be a cause for concern. For some, however, a lingering cough could be a sign of something more serious, such as a lung disease or lung cancer. We're calling on Australians to get to know their lung health better, understand the symptoms of lung cancer and lung disease and make a commitment to discuss any new, changed or persistent symptoms with a GP.”

This week, in partnership with Cancer Australia, Lung Foundation Australia is also launching an accredited e-learning package that aims to increase the confidence of primary care health professionals in recognising lung cancer in symptomatic patients. The training will support health professionals to apply the recommendations of Cancer Australia's Investigating symptoms of lung cancer: A guide for health professionals in clinical practice.

Dr Kerry Hancock, GP and Lung Foundation Australia primary care clinical advisory committee chair, said the training is highly recommended for her GP colleagues in particular, as a diagnosis at an early stage means more treatment options and better outcomes.

“You might only diagnose lung cancer once or twice a year but when you do, being prepared with the knowledge of an evidence-based, step-wise approach to investigation and referral may help save a life.”