24th November 2020

See blood? See your doctor

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The colour red is often associated with warning and danger, perhaps because of the obvious link with the colour of blood. If you cough up blood, or have blood in your phlegm, you must react to the danger and go and see your doctor.

There are many reasons why we can cough up blood. Many of them quite benign, such as a chest infection, but coughing up blood or having blood in your phlegm can also be a key sign of lung cancer.

It is very important to contact your GP surgery as soon as possible, even if it’s just a few spots or specks of blood. If you can’t speak to your GP, call NHS 111 or your local out of hours service or, if you cough up a lot of blood, call 999 or go to your nearest accident and emergency.

Tests that may be needed

Your GP may decide to refer you to a specialist at your local hospital for a chest X-ray or a more detailed scan, such as a computerised tomography (CT) scan.

You may be asked for a sample of your sputum so it can be checked for infection. Other tests, such as blood tests, may also be needed.

In some cases, further tests may be required to find out where the blood is coming from. For example, you may be referred to a specialist who may decide to arrange a test called a bronchoscopy, where the main air passages of your lungs are examined using a tube with a camera at one end.

Coughing up blood can be an early symptom of lung cancer

Coughing up blood is a frightening experience and many people believe if you cough up blood you must have advanced lung cancer. However, coughing up blood can sometimes still be an early symptom lung cancer, as Ruthra can attest to.

As a 37-year-old mother, Ruthra initially started suffering with repeat chest infections. She put this down to her son bring bugs home from nursery. However, when she coughed up a little bit of blood, she thought something else could be going on and asked her GP to refer her to a respiratory specialist. This decision may have saved Ruthra’s life as she went on to be diagnosed with early stage lung cancer. She now has an important message to share with other people experiencing similar symptoms:

“I know some people are worried about bothering your GP or bothering the NHS, especially at the minute but as an NHS worker myself, I can honestly say please don’t worry. It is what we’re here for. 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.”

Since her surgery, Ruthra is back out running and back out chasing after her little boy.

Be aware of all the symptoms

Coughing up blood is just one symptom of lung cancer. Some people may have several symptoms, others may have none. 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
  • Back and/or shoulder pain
  • Unexplained weight loss or loss of appetite
  • Difficult swallowing
  • Finger clubbing
  • Unexplained fatigue or lack of energy
  • Hoarseness
  • Swelling in the face or neck.

If you are experiencing any of these potential symptoms of lung cancer – it is vital that you speak to your doctor. The earlier lung cancer is diagnosed like Ruthra, the better options you may have.