Symptoms of lung cancer can be hard to spot, especially with spring now in full bloom. A persistent cough or wheeziness, for example, could be put down to seasonal allergies such as hay fever.
Almost 10 million people in England suffer from hay fever and recent research shows that the number of sufferers is rising every year*. Symptoms include itchy eyes, a runny nose and a cough. Many seasonal allergies can be managed with over-the-counter antihistamine medication. However, if symptoms like a persistent cough continue, it could be an indicator of something else going on.
This was the case for Yvonne Diaz from London who first attributed her symptoms to hay fever.
“Last April, I became aware of a regular cough which I tended to notice while out walking my dog each morning. The cough would initially come and go. As the spring flowers and trees were all in blossom, I attributed the cough to seasonal allergies.
Over the next month, the cough became more disruptive – particularly when speaking on my back-to-back video calls during the workday. I also started noticing some pressure in my chest – which I attributed to work stress. I made an appointment and saw my GP in early June.
While my GP suspected allergies, she thankfully referred me for an x-ray – where an irregularity was detected. Because of my age and never-smoking status, I was asked to come in to repeat the x-ray and later asked to take a CT scan. By mid-August, a PET scan confirmed that I had stage IV lung cancer – with a tumour in my right lung, another in the liver and involvement of my lymph glands.”
Yvonne was diagnosed with ALK+ lung cancer, a genetic mutation driven lung cancer which is often diagnosed at a late stage due to the late presentation of symptoms. However, thanks to advances in treatments, ALK+ lung cancer is treatable. Yvonne is currently on a targeted therapy called Brigatinib – she takes one tablet a day and luckily has minimal side effects from this treatment.
Every year in the UK, around 48,000 people will be diagnosed with lung cancer. It is vital to recognise any potential symptoms early and ensure they aren’t mistaken for other conditions, such as seasonal allergies.
“It’s easy to dismiss a cough,” Yvonne concludes, “particularly when you’ve always been fit, healthy and active and you don’t fit the ‘typical’ profile for an illness. But anyone with a cough that lasts for longer than three weeks should contact their GP practice.
At first, you might find yourself being treated for chest infections, allergies or reflux. But please ask for a chest x-ray if you have a cough that won’t go away or have any other lung cancer symptoms – it could save your life.”