Lung cancer

The earlier lung cancer is found, the easier it is to treat

Your GP practice wants to hear from you if you’re aged 40+ and have noticed:

  • Change in cough or new cough.
  • Change in breathlessness or new breathlessness.
  • Unexplained and persistent symptoms for 3+ weeks.

While there’s probably nothing to worry about, it’s always best to get checked early. Learn a bit more about what to look out for and what’s involved in getting checked.

Signs and symptoms of lung cancer

Lung cancer and COVID-19

Getting checked - what’s involved



If you have any of the symptoms listed below then you should contact your GP practice without delay. While having one or more of these doesn’t mean you have lung cancer, a quicker diagnosis can mean less worry. If cancer is confirmed, more treatment options are available if it’s found early. Don’t ignore these symptoms – just contact your GP practice to be on the safe side. They want to hear from you.

Unexplained and persistent (more than 3 weeks) in those aged 40+:

  • Change in cough or a new cough
  • Change in breathlessness or new breathlessness
  • Fatigue in smoker or ex-smoker
  • Persistent or recurring chest infection

May also be accompanied by one or more of the following: 

  • Coughing up blood
  • Chest pain/ shoulder pain
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • A hoarse voice

Getting checked - what’s involved


  1. Lung cancer is the most common cancer in Scotland with approximately 5,500 new cases diagnosed every year.
  2. More people than ever in Scotland are surviving lung cancer.
  3. The earlier lung cancer is found, the easier it is to treat and the more likely you are to survive.
  4. Since 1995, lung cancer rates for women in Scotland have increased by 22%.


Cancer treatment has been a priority throughout the pandemic and will continue to be so. You should always contact your GP practice for help and advice if you’re in any doubt about symptoms you may be experiencing.

Some symptoms of lung cancer are similar to those of COVID-19, like a cough, but signs more suggestive of COVID-19 include a sudden onset of:

  • Dry cough
  • Breathlessness
  • Fever
  • Muscle pain
  • Loss of smell
  • Loss of taste
  • Close contact with a confirmed/highly suspected case of COVID-19
  • Initial flu-like symptoms for 1-2 weeks with onset of respiratory symptoms from 7-10 days

You can find out more about COVID-19 on NHS inform.

If you’re aged 40+ and have recently tested negative for COVID-19 yet your symptoms – including a cough – are persisting for more than 3 weeks, you should contact your GP practice.



Some people put off contacting their GP practice because they think they'll be wasting their time but they want to see you if you’re worried about any potential symptoms.

While some things are a bit different at the moment, cancer tests and treatment has been a priority throughout the pandemic and will continue to be so. Some consultations are taking place over the phone or via video call, so it may not be a face-to-face appointment.

It’s always best to get checked out early – here’s what to expect when you contact your GP practice:

  • Follow the normal procedures to contact your GP practice.  You may have to wait for your call to be answered but it shouldn’t take long, please be patient. They do want to hear from you.
  • Your GP or primary care clinician will listen to your concerns about your health and ask some questions about your symptoms.
  • They may want to examine your chest.
  • They’ll decide if you need to have a chest x-ray or other tests and will arrange these for you. If you need more investigations, your GP practice may arrange for you to see a chest specialist in a hospital.
  • If you’re diagnosed with lung cancer, you’ll be referred to a lung cancer team for expert treatment and care.

Find out more about getting checked during the COVID-19 pandemic.



If someone close to you is experiencing any symptoms mentioned on this site, it may well be that they simply don’t realise it could be a sign of cancer. Chances are it is nothing to worry about, but maybe it is time to start a conversation.

Start a conversation

Research advancements

Lung cancer is not as hopeless a diagnosis as it was even a few years ago – a lot has changed in recent years. We have access to brand new specialised radiotherapy equipment that have enabled us to develop and implement techniques to treat lung cancer more aggressively where previously we may only have been able to offer palliative treatment.

At the same time as having greater control of the cancer, we are able to minimise the side effects of the treatments by targeting the cancer more accurately, thereby reducing damage to the healthy surrounding tissues.

As clinicians, we want people to be diagnosed with lung cancer early as it opens up more treatment options such as surgery, radiotherapy and drug treatment. It is really important that patients, relatives and health care professionals are aware of the advances in the treatment of lung cancer and do not ignore symptoms that could turn out to be successfully treatable cancers.

Stephen Harrow, Consultant Clinical Oncologist and Honorary Clinical Associate Professor at Edinburgh Cancer Centre:

Real stories

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