Coughing for three weeks? Get it checked out by your GP

08 May 2012

People living in Havering who have had a cough for three weeks or more should go to see their GP. It may be nothing serious, but if you are suffering from other symptoms, such as breathlessness as well, it could be an early symptom of lung cancer.

“The biggest problem we have with the diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer is people not seeking help soon enough,” says Dr Alex Tran GP Cancer Lead for North East London and a local GP “The earlier you get to see your GP, the earlier we can help or refer you to a specialist if it is something serious such as lung cancer. The majority of patients with a cough do not have cancer but your GP will be able to advise which cases will or will not need further examination or investigations, therefore to be on the safe side, you should see your GP if you have a cough that has lasted beyond three weeks on a continued basis. “

One person who knows better than most the importance of seeing your GP early is Sylvia Burwick. Sylvia was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2008.

“My family had told me to go to the doctor’s because they could see I wasn’t well,” says Sylvia. “I had given up smoking and developed emphysema and I was being treated for that, but my breathing changed and I was finding the walk to work harder.

“Then I started to cough up blood and knew something was wrong. My GP sent me for an x-ray and that came back with something there so they sent me to Queen’s. I had a scan done really quickly and it came back that I had lung cancer.

“I was totally gutted. I’d known something wasn’t right for a long time – you know your own body don’t you? I don’t know how long I’d had it, but they said they had to take part of my lung out and then they found it had spread to my windpipe as well.

“So I had chemotherapy and radium treatment for nine weeks in blocks of three weeks and though I sailed through that really, I was in a wheelchair and I couldn’t go out.

“The damage had already been done for me. I’d advise anyone who smokes to stop, but even if you’re a non smoker, if you think something is wrong, go to your GP early. I’m still here, I survived, but the scarring on my lungs has left me disabled.”

 Around 170 people in Havering are diagnosed with lung cancer each year and 140 residents die of the disease. But awareness of the symptoms of lung cancer is low with only 18% of people mentioning a persistent cough as a potential symptom – even though it is the most common sign of lung cancer.

Cancer survival rates generally are improving, but lung cancer survival rates are particularly low. The survival rate for people diagnosed early is between 58% to 73% but only one in eight cases is diagnosed this early.

So the message is clear. If you have symptoms – a persistent cough, shortness of breath or you are coughing up blood – go to see your GP now and get the help that you need.

Go online at: or visit for help to stop smoking.


For more information contact Andy Strickland, media manager, NHS outer north east London, on 020 8822 3024