COVID or Lung Cancer? Shared Symptom Creates Confusion

Some symptoms of lung cancer are like those of COVID-19
By on 10/14/2020 12:00 PM

Source: MedicineNet Health News

After last week's passing of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame guitarist Eddie Van Halen at age 65, more Americans have lung cancer on their minds. But coughing in 2020 means coronavirus to many people, and many are opting for a coronavirus screening rather than a cancer screening, say British researchers.

The charity Cancer Research UK has found this week that lung cancer screenings are down 60% in the United Kingdom. They are raising alarms that these missed screenings are likely to lead to more lung cancer deaths this year. American doctors have noticed similar trends in heart attack patients and others with deadly conditions and diseases.

Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer death in men and women in the US. Every year about 150,000 Americans die from lung cancer. But some symptoms of lung cancer are like those of COVID-19.

Lung Cancer Symptoms & COVID-19

Lung cancer and COVID-19 share a distinctive symptom, says Cancer Research UK. They warn that having a "new, continuous cough" is something to tell your doctor about. That is especially true if it also comes with loss of appetite, unplanned weight loss, or fatigue, as these can be telling signs of cancer.

These researchers emphasize how important it is to get screened. They reason that you may not have cancer, but if you do, early detection is crucial for giving yourself the best possible odds.

They also remind you that telemedicine can help you contact your doctor without going into the office or hospital. The charity offers these tips for questions to ask your doctor:

  • Do I need to see a specialist? Is it urgent?
  • Do I need tests? What will they involve?
  • How long should I expect to wait?
  • Where can I find out more about tests?
  • Do I have to do anything to prepare for this test?
  • When will I get the results and who will tell me?

It may also be a good idea to take notes about your symptoms. When did you first notice the cough? How long has it persisted? Be prepared to tell your doctor everything you can about your cough.

What Is Lung Cancer?

Like all cancers, lung cancer comes from a disruption in the way your cells divide and reproduce, writes MedicineNet medical author . As cells grow wildly, they begin to form masses called tumors.

These tumors can be cancerous or benign, Dr. Stöppler writes. Cancerous tumors spread aggressively and over time can spread through your blood stream to any organ in the body, but tends to spread to adrenal glands, liver, brain, and bones.

"Since lung cancer tends to spread or metastasize very early after it forms, it is a very life-threatening cancer and one of the most difficult cancers to treat," Dr. Stöppler writes.

Lung Cancer Screening in the US

America may be on the verge of doubling the number of citizens recommended for lung cancer screening. In July, a federal task force recommended earlier screenings for people with lower risks, which could reduce lung cancer deaths by 24% over time.

  • Current Standard: People should be screened for lung cancer who are between 55-80 years old, and have smoked at least 30 "pack years" of cigarettes within the last 15 years. That might mean a pack a day for 30 years, or two packs a day over 15 years, for example.
  • New Recommendation: People should be screened for lung cancer, starting at age 50, if they have smoked the equivalent of 20 "pack years" of cigarettes within the last 15 years.

If these new screening standards are adopted, the researchers believe it could save the lives of about 36,000 Americans each year.

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