14th November 2020

Frog in your throat? Tell your doctor

View all Early detection

A tickle. A croak. A frog in your throat. There are so many ways to describe a hoarse voice. We’ll all experience hoarseness at some point in our lives, perhaps after shouting at a football match or speaking for a prolonged period of time. However, if you are experiencing unexplained hoarseness or a weakening of your voice – it could be a sign of lung cancer. 

Hoarseness can be caused by a lung cancer tumour pressing on the laryngeal nerve – which is in the chest – causing a paralysis or weakening of the nerve, and sometimes resulting in paralysis of a vocal cord. Although it can occur in patients with lung cancer in the right lung, it is more common in those who have a tumour in the left lung.

Lung cancer can rapidly grow and spread throughout the body, so as soon as you first notice any symptoms – including hoarseness or a weakening of the voice, you must report this to your GP.

A hoarse voice or a changing of the voice is not a commonly known symptom of lung cancer, with only 1% of people in the UK identifying it in a symptom awareness survey conducted by the Global Lung Cancer Coalition.  

Having a hoarse voice can have a significant impact on your everyday life, both practically and emotionally. It isn’t something you should ignore. In many cases, your hoarseness will be caused by something else and won’t be a sign of lung cancer. But for some people like Andrew, it was an early sign of the disease.

Andrew is a musician and was working as a music teacher when he first noticed that his voice was becoming hoarse, to the point where he found it hard to sing. Thankfully, he visited his doctor as soon as he noticed a change in his voice and his lung cancer was caught at an early stage.

You’d think, if someone has lung cancer that they must have a cough. I didn’t. My only symptom was a croaky voice.

“I saw a throat specialist who saw one of my vocal cords was paralysed. We have two vocal cords and they wobble together to make the sound of your voice but one of mine wasn’t moving. I was told this normally means something more sinister because something is pressing on the nerve.”

Thanks to his early diagnosis, Andrew was able to have surgery to remove a lobe from his lung (lobectomy). Andrew’s outcome could have been very different if he hadn’t visited his doctor when he first noticed his croaky voice.

“That early diagnosis was massive because I could have easily not been diagnosed when I was, and the tumour would have continued to grow.

It is absolutely paramount that if you do have any symptoms, go and get yourself checked – however scared you feel. Leaving it is only going to make things worse.”

Visiting your GP in the pandemic

Andrew is Still Here because he was diagnosed early. Don’t let the pandemic stop you or your loved ones from being diagnosed. If you notice any symptoms, including unexplained hoarseness or croaky voice, please make an appointment with your GP.

Dr. Helen Piercy assured us that even in lockdown, it is still ok to visit your GP.

“Patients might feel as though they don’t want to burden their doctor with their symptoms during the pandemic, but the important thing to remember is if you are unwell, your GP wants to hear from you.

What we need you to do first is phone for an appointment. You’ll then be assessed first of all, and if you need to be seen face-to-face, your doctor will invite you in.”

Be aware of all the symptoms

Hoarseness was Andrew’s only symptom of lung cancer. Some people may have multiple symptoms, others may not have any. As well as hoarseness, other signs and symptoms of lung cancer include:

  • A persistent cough that lasts three weeks or more
  • Breathlessness
  • Wheezing
  • Frequent chest infections
  • A cough that changes or gets worse
  • Chest and/or shoulder pain
  • Coughing up blood or blood in your phlegm
  • Unexplained fatigue or lack of energy
  • Finger clubbing
  • Swelling in the face or neck.

If you are experiencing any possible lung cancer symptoms – including a hoarse voice – it is vital that you speak to your doctor. The earlier lung cancer is diagnosed, the better the prognosis.