The leading cause of cancer-related death in America is lung cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up to 90 percent of lung cancers in the United States are linked to smoking. (1)
Lung cancer is most treatable in its early stages, so it’s crucial to be aware of signs and symptoms. One of the warning signs of lung cancer is a lung cancer cough.
If you’re wondering what does a lung cancer cough sound like, read on. We’ll cover this and more in our quick guide, so you can stay informed and know when to seek medical attention.
What Is Lung Cancer?
Lung cancer occurs when cancer cells grow and multiply in the lungs. Lung cancer can also spread to the lymph nodes or other places throughout the body. In the same regard, other forms of cancer can also cause developing lung cancer.
Lung cancer can be categorized into two groups: small cell and non-small cell. These two forms of cancer grow differently and have different recommended forms of treatment.(5)
While there are several risk factors for developing lung cancer, one of the most common ones is smoking. Smoking accounts for 80-90% of lung cancer deaths.(6) Even secondhand smoke is also a leading cause of lung cancer in the United States today. Aside from tobacco, cigarettes, and other forms of smoking, other common causes include diet, radiation therapy, and having a family history of lung cancer.
There are many different symptoms that are prevalent in lung cancer patients. One of the most common signs is a persistent cough. In most cases, the cough severity increases over time and can be followed by pain. Other common symptoms in cancer patients include:
- shortness of breath
- coughing up blood
- weight loss
- chest pain(7)
What is a Lung Cancer Cough?
A common symptom in lung cancer patients is a persistent cough at the time of diagnosis. This type of chronic cough is seen in about half of the patients who are diagnosed with lung cancer. A chronic cough lasts for at least eight consecutive weeks.
We’re often asked how a lung cancer cough sounds — and it’s important to note that coughs can vary based on the individual. A lung cancer cough can either be wet or dry cough and it can occur at any time of day. Many individuals note that the cough interferes with their sleep and feels similar to symptoms of allergies or a respiratory infection. If you have symptoms like blood or rust-colored mucus or phlegm, shortness of breath, chest pain, or infections like bronchitis or pneumonia that come back and persist, it’s crucial to talk to your healthcare professional. (1,3)
What is a Smoker’s Cough?
A smoker’s cough is common among people who smoke and happens due to the body clearing out chemicals in the airways that enter into the body through the use of tobacco. Not all people who smoke will develop a smoker’s cough and there are variations in cough severity. It’s more likely among individuals who have used tobacco for long periods of time. (2)
Early on, a smoker’s cough is typically dry. As it progresses, the cough might produce phlegm. Phlegm can be colorless, blood-tinged, yellow-green, or white.
Additional symptoms and side effects that accompany a smoker’s cough might be a crackling sound when breathing, experiencing shortness of breath, chest pains, a sore throat, and wheezing. It’s said that smoker’s coughs are often worse in the morning and get better as the day progresses.
The best remedy is to quit smoking (including vaping, smoking weed and cigarette smoking) — though you can also gargle saltwater, stay hydrated, try cough suppressants suck on lozenges, and try a humidifier to alleviate symptoms.
Knowing whether it’s a smoker’s cough or lung cancer is difficult, especially in long term smokers, which is why regular checkups and screenings for those who are at high risk are important.
Lung Cancer Screening
If you experience persistent coughing and are worried that it might be a sign of developing lung cancer or another oncoming lung disease, the next step is talking to your doctor. The American Cancer Society outlines a screening criteria that’s good to keep in mind. A patient that is at a higher lung cancer risk should be screened yearly to catch an early diagnosis of lung cancer. (4)
The American Cancer Society recommends annual lung cancer screening with a low-dose CT scan (LDCT) for certain people at higher risk for lung cancer who meet the following conditions:
- Are aged 55 to 74 years and in fairly good health, and
- Currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years, and
- Have at least a 30-pack-year smoking history, and
- Receive smoking cessation counseling if they are current smokers
- Have been involved in informed/shared decision making about the benefits, limitations, and harms of screening with LDCT scans, and
- Have access to a high-volume, high-quality lung cancer screening and treatment center.
At Immunity Therapy Center, we typically do lung cancer diagnosis and screenings in one of three ways. We use imaging tests and x-rays to look for abnormal masses or a CT scan to show small lesions. We might also perform a sputum cytology — if you have a cough that produces sputum, we can analyze the sample under a microscope to look for the presence of lung cancer cells. There’s also the option of a lung tissue sample, where we take a biopsy of abnormal cells.
If you do find that you have lung cancer, we offer alternative cancer treatment options that will help strengthen your immune system and kill the cancer cells. We work with our patients to come up with a natural lung cancer treatment plan that works best for them and their lifestyle.
If you have any questions at all about smoker’s cough or lung cancer cough — or are interested in hearing more about our treatment options — feel free to reach out to us today. Remember, a smoker’s cough and a lung cancer cough can be similar in sound and symptoms, so if you’re a smoker with persistent symptoms, talk to your healthcare professional as soon as possible.
- Galan, Nicole. “What is the Link Between Lung Cancer and A Cough?” medicalnewstoday.com, September 18, 2017, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319449. Accessed April 17, 2020.
- Leonard, Jayne. “Everything You Need to Know About Smoker’s Cough.” medicalnewstoday.com, August 14, 2017, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318931#symptoms. Accessed April 17, 2020.
- Eldridge, Lynne. “Is Your Cough a Lung Cancer Cough?” verywellhealth.com, November 30, 2019, https://www.verywellhealth.com/is-my-cough-a-lung-cancer-cough-2248846. Accessed April 17. 2020.
- “Lung Cancer Screening Guidelines.” cancer.org, (no publish date), https://www.cancer.org/health-care-professionals/american-cancer-society-prevention-early-detection-guidelines/lung-cancer-screening-guidelines.html. Accessed April 17, 2020
- What Is Lung Cancer? CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/lung/basic_info/what-is-lung-cancer.htm. Accessed May 28, 2021
- What Are the Risk Factors for Lung Cancer? CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/lung/basic_info/risk_factors.htm. Accessed May 28, 2021
- What Are the Symptoms of Lung Cancer? CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/lung/basic_info/symptoms.htm. Accessed May 28, 2021
At Immunity Therapy Center, our goal is to provide objective, updated, and research-based information on all health-related topics. This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles. All information has been fact-checked and reviewed by Dr. Carlos Bautista, a Board Certified Medical Doctor at Immunity Therapy Center. All information published on the site must undergo an extensive review process to ensure accuracy. This article contains trusted sources with all references hyperlinked for the reader's visibility.