27th March 2021

How to talk to your doctor about lung cancer symptoms

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Talking about our health is something that we can sometimes struggle with. Visiting the doctor is something that many avoid. People can be living with the first signs of lung cancer such as a persistent cough or back pain for months – even years – until talking to their doctor. Taking that first step of highlighting how you are feeling is vital in getting to the bottom of your symptoms.

We have been campaigning for a greater awareness of lung cancer symptoms since our beginnings in 1990. Visiting your GP if you notice the first signs of lung cancer is essential and in some cases, it can be lifesaving.

Your symptoms might be nothing to be concerned about, but they could be a sign of lung cancer. If it is lung cancer, talking to your GP early on gives you the best chances of getting an early diagnosis.

If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of lung cancer, it can be difficult to know what to say. We’ve gathered together some advice on what to say to your doctor when taking those first steps into investigating your symptoms.

Making your appointment

Give your doctor’s surgery a call to make your appointment. Sometimes it can feel difficult to make an appointment with your doctor if the telephone line is engaged, be persistent and keep trying. Many surgeries are even set up to use the NHS app to arrange appointments.

Due to the pandemic, a large amount of GP surgeries are actively asking patients to give symptom information when booking an appointment as a way of triaging patients. This may worry you but rest assured, all reception staff will have signed confidentiality agreements; your personal information will be in safe hands.

If you’re not registered with a GP, visit the NHS website to find your nearest surgery.

If you are unwell, your GP wants to hear from you.

Dr. Helen Piercy, GP locum in West Lancashire

Know what to expect

Given the current COVID-19 circumstances, your first appointment with your doctor will usually be on the telephone. They will then assess your symptoms and risk of lung cancer and decide next steps.

Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may want to see you in person – following strict covid safety restrictions. After this, you could be referred for a chest x-ray or blood tests. If your doctor isn’t suspecting lung cancer at this time, you might be prescribed medication to treat symptoms and booked in for a follow up appointment.  

Prepare what you want to say

In order to get a diagnosis of lung cancer, your GP will need to know all symptoms you have been experiencing. It can be easy to forget important information, such as when you first noticed your symptom(s). That’s why we created a free symptom tracker as a great way to monitor any changes in your lung health.

Be honest with yourself

It can be easy to excuse symptoms away or play them down. However, if you are experiencing symptoms you think could be the first signs of lung cancer, it is important to be honest with yourself, your loved ones, and your doctor. In many cases, symptoms of back pain, a cough, or weight loss could be caused by something else. But if it is lung cancer, the earlier you are diagnosed, the sooner you can begin life changing treatment or even surgery with curative intent.

Brian Gemmell had lung cancer symptoms

The longer you leave it, the worse it’s going to get. Lung cancer doesn’t go away, it’s not something that can be cured by doing nothing, it’s got to be cured by doing something.

Brian Gemmell, underwent curative surgery for stage 3 lung cancer.

Be honest with your GP

During your appointment, your doctor may ask your questions regarding medical history or lifestyle. Be honest with your GP as they will be building a picture of your health in order to decide what to do next. If you are concerned that your symptoms are the first signs of lung cancer, let them know. Your doctor can only help you if they are aware of all of the symptoms you are experiencing.

If your symptoms don’t clear up

Even if your tests are clear but your symptoms continue, go back to visit your doctor. It won’t be wasting their time; they are there to help you. Always ask your doctor questions, no matter how silly you think they might sound.

If you still feel that something isn’t quite right, ask for an appointment with another doctor to get a second, even third opinion.

As an NHS worker myself, it’s our job to help if you are unwell so, if you have any lingering concerns, don’t hesitate. Go to your GP and get yourself checked out and if your symptoms persist like mine did, don’t be afraid to ask to be referred to a specialist or ask for an x-ray or CT scan.

Ruthra Coventry, underwent curative surgery for stage 1 lung cancer.

Who else can you talk to about the first signs of lung cancer?

If you are referred for further lung cancer tests, it can be a worrying time. Our Ask the Nurse freephone helpline is here for you to talk through what types of questions to ask your doctor, lung cancer symptoms, tests and diagnosis. You can contact the nurse team 0800 358 7200 (UK only), Monday – Thursday 9am – 5pm / Friday 9am – 4pm or email: lungcancerhelp@roycastle.org.