Is a dry cough a symptom of lung cancer?

William D. Bolton, MD
Thoracic Surgery (Cardiothoracic Vascular)
A dry cough can be a symptom of many diseases, including cancer, however it does not mean you have cancer. A cough that does not resolve should undergo evaluation by your physician.
Most patients will first undergo an evaluation for allergic and sinus disease. If this evaluation does not reveal a source of the cough, then a chest x-ray (CXR) should be performed.
If an abnormality is identified in the CXR, the patient should see either a Thoracic surgeon or a pulmonologist for a chest CAT scan and possibly a biopsy.
A biopsy can be guided by CAT scan or bronchoscopy.
For a CAT scan guided biopsy, the patient is given local anesthetic and a physician inserts a needle through the chest into the mass.
With a bronchoscope, the physician can see inside the trachea, search for masses, and take tissue samples (biopsies).
If no diagnosis is obtained with either CAT scan or bronchoscopy guided biopsy techniques, then the patient may need to go to surgery for removal of the mass.
The contents of this website are for informational purposes only and are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Nor does the contents of this website constitute the establishment of a physician patient or therapeutic relationship. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Penn Medicine
Administration
The most common symptoms of lung cancer are:
  • A cough that does not go away
  • Chest pain, often made worse by deep breathing, coughing or laughing
  • Hoarseness
  • Weight loss and loss of appetite
  • Coughing up bloody or rust-colored sputum
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Recurring respiratory infections, such as bronchitis and pneumonia
  • Wheezing that did not previously exist
There are many reasons why people have a cough. Most new coughs are related to an irritation in the lung such as viral infection or bacterial infection. These coughs usually improve and then completely disappear once the infection has gone away. Some people have coughs that are persistent over months or years, and these are usually related to such things as acid reflux (heartburn), irritation from smoking, asthma, chronic lung damage, exposure to irritants in the surrounding environment, or other problems unrelated to the lungs themselves.

Many lung cancer patients have no cough at all. However, a cough may, at times, be a sign of lung cancer. Lung cancers may irritate the lungs or windpipe, stimulating a cough. Whether a cough is dry or produces mucus is not related to whether a lung cancer is present. For some people who develop lung cancer, a dry cough may appear; in other people who develop lung cancer a cough that has been bothersome for months or years may change in character, becoming harsher or more nagging. Some people cough up mucus, other people cough up blood, and most people who have a cough related to lung cancer don't cough up anything at all.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.