Lung cancer


What to look out for

Lung cancer is the most common cancer in Scotland with around 5,000 new cases diagnosed every year. But there is some good news – more people than ever in Scotland are surviving the disease. This is down to improved treatments and more people getting checked earlier.

Your risk of lung cancer increases with age but finding it early makes it easier to treat and improves your chance of survival.

Lung cancer and Covid-19

Some symptoms of lung cancer are similar to those of Covid-19, like a cough, but information on this page will hopefully help you tell them apart. 

Signs more suggestive of lung cancer

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

Signs more suggestive of Covid-19

Sudden occurrence 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

When to contact your GP

If you’re aged 40+ and have a persistent new or different cough for three weeks or more, contact your GP practice now. 

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

While it’s probably nothing to worry about, a quicker diagnosis can mean less worry. If cancer is confirmed, more treatment options are available if it’s found early. 

Cancer treatment has been a priority throughout the pandemic and will continue to be so moving forward.  

If in doubt, contact your GP practice for help and advice. 

Getting Checked Early During the Pandemic

Signs and symptoms

If you've had a cough for three weeks, it's worth getting it checked out with your GP practice. Chances are it's nothing to worry about but it could be a sign of lung cancer.

Below is a list of other symptoms that if you have, you should contact your GP practice about. Having one or more of these doesn’t mean you have lung cancer. However, if you’ve had them for more than three weeks you shouldn’t ignore them – just contact your GP practice to be on the safe side.

  • A cough you've had for 3 weeks or more
  • A cough you've had for a long time that's got worse or changes
  • Feeling breathless for no reason
  • A chest infection that doesn't clear up
  • Coughing blood
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Chest or shoulder pains
  • Unexplained tiredness or lack of energy
  • A hoarse voice

Worried about family or friends?


  1. Lung cancer is the most common cancer in Scotland with approximately 5,000 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. Lung cancer rates in women have almost doubled in Scotland over the past 40 years.

Getting checked – what's involved?

Some people put off going to the doctor because they think they'll be wasting their GP practice's time. Your doctor won't think that – they want to see you if you’re worried about any potential symptoms.

It’s always best to get checked out early – here’s what will happen when you visit your doctor.

  • Your GP will listen carefully to your story about what you have noticed with your health and will ask some questions about your symptoms.
  • Your GP will 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.
  • If you’re diagnosed with lung cancer, you’ll be referred to a lung cancer team for treatment and care.


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 Lead Clinician for Radiotherapy Research at The Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre:

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