Health awareness

At risk for lung cancer? Know the signs & symptoms

Don't gloss over it, visit a doctor — do it FOR yourself

August 19, 2021

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Delayed doctor’s visits can impact your health

With more time spent at home during the COVID-19 pandemic last year, many of us became do-it-yourself-ers – taking on new home improvement projects, dinner recipes and self-care routines. But one thing we may not have tackled is our health, including routine doctor’s visits.

If your health fell off your to-do list, you’re not alone. In 2020, many Americans delayed doctor’s visits for routine medical care due to the pandemic.

Do it for yourself video

As a result, important tests, like lung cancer screenings, went down more than 50% from the previous year. This is concerning because delays in screenings can lead to lung cancer going undiagnosed until it has reached a late stage and is harder to treat.

Annabelle Gurwitch, best-selling author and activist living with lung cancer

“In May 2020, I went to an urgent care center for a COVID-19 test. I mentioned I had a persistent cough but couldn’t recall how long it had been going on – and like many people during the pandemic, I put off going to the doctor to have it checked out. The COVID-19 test was negative, but a chest X-ray revealed a concerning mass on one of my lungs. After a work-up from my primary care doctor, I received a diagnosis of stage four lung cancer.”

Early detection of lung cancer is important

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among both men and women in the U.S. Each year, more people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast and prostate cancers combined. When lung cancer is found early, the five-year survival rate is nearly 60%, which means more than half of people live for at least five years. But when it is found late, the five-year survival rate drops to only 6%.

That’s why it’s so important for all of us to get our routine doctor’s visits back on track, especially if something isn’t right.

“Many are unaware of the importance of early detection and there’s also very little understanding about lung cancer in general, including the signs and symptoms of the disease. Personally, I had no idea how prevalent lung cancer is among active, otherwise healthy women like myself. Had I been aware, I might have gotten my cough checked out sooner and maybe even been diagnosed at an earlier stage. That’s why I am sharing my story to encourage people to prioritize their health and schedule their routine doctor’s visits,” says Annabelle.

Recognizing symptoms of lung cancer and knowing your risk

Some of the most common symptoms of lung cancer are an unexplained, persistent cough lasting more than three weeks or shortness of breath.

While anyone can get lung cancer, your risk goes up if you are over 50 years old and:

  • currently smoke or smoked in the past
  • have been around secondhand smoke
  • have a family history of the disease, such as a parent or sibling

*The above list does not include all risk factors for lung cancer

Don’t gloss over it: Schedule a doctor’s visit

As we begin to start returning to our regular schedules, it’s time to tackle our health again. If you have an unexplained, persistent cough lasting more than three weeks or shortness of breath, don’t gloss over it. Do it FOR yourself and take these simple steps to help protect your health.

Ask your doctor about their office COVID-19 screening procedures

While you may still have some concerns about visiting your doctor, most doctor’s offices have rules to protect their patients, such as COVID-19 screenings. Work with your doctor to come up with a plan that’s best for you.

Ask your doctor’s office:

— what rules they have to protect their patients from COVID-19
— if you can bring a loved one to your visit for support
— whether they offer telemedicine visits

To learn more about lung cancer, including symptoms and factors that raise your risk, visit our advocacy partners’ websites:

Go2 foundation logo

GO2 Foundation for Lung Cancer

lung cancer foundation of America logo

Lung Cancer Foundation of America (LCFA)

lung cancer research foundation logo

Lung Cancer Research Foundation (LCRF)