Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group

be clear on cancer - respiratory symptoms

Respiratory symptoms banner July 2016

Have you been coughing for three weeks or more?

Do you get out of breath doing things you used to be able to do?

It could be a sign of lung or heart disease, or even cancer. Finding it early makes it more treatable, so don't ignore it, tell your doctor.

A persistent cough or inappropriate breathlessness during everyday activities such as vacuuming or mowing the lawn could be symptoms of a variety of conditions, including cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and, in the case of breathlessness, heart disease.

Key facts
  • Over 1 million people are diagnosed with COPD, and an estimated further 1 million people are living with undiagnosed COPD. COPD causes around 115,000 emergency admissions and around 24,000 deaths each year. 10% of emergency admissions for COPD are in people whose condition is undiagnosed
  • Around 36,500 people are diagnosed with lung cancer each year and around 28,400 people die from the disease each year
  • Over 70,000 people died from heart disease in 2014


What are the symptoms?

The early signs of lung disease or COPD can vary, however they can include:

  • A cough that has got worse or changes
  • Repeated chest infections
  • Coughing up blood
  • Breathlessness
  • Wheezing
  • Feeling more tired than usual for some time
  • Losing weight for no obvious reason
  • An ache or pain in your chest or shoulder that has lasted some time
  • Swollen ankles

When to see your GP

Having symptoms doesn't necessarily mean you have cancer. If you have had symptoms for three weeks or more and are worried, make an appointment with your GP.

You will not be wasting anyone's time by getting it checked out and if it's not serious, your mind will be put at rest.

How to help yourself

You can reduce your personal risk of developing cancer by these lifestyle choices:

Stop smoking

It's never too late to stop smoking. No matter what age you stop, it reduces your chances of developing cancer and makes a real difference to your health in general. There's plenty of support and help available from the NHS. Visit or call 0800 169 0169.

Keep your weight in check

If you are overweight you can lose weight by combining regular exercise and a calorie-controlled diet.

Stay active

Swimming, cycling, dancing - the more you can do, the better. Even walking to your local shops instead of taking the car can make a difference.

Eat healthily

Try to get your 5-a-day. So eat more vegetables, fruit, fish and wholegrain foods and drink plenty of water. Eat less fatty foods like cakes and pastries, less red meats and fewer processed meats like bacon and ham.

Useful links

NHS Choices - chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

NHS Choices - lung cancer

NHS Choices - heart disease

British Heart Foundation 

British Lung Foundation

Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation

Somerset Stop Smoking Service







Contact Somerset CCG by phone or email

01935 384000


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