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BMC Cancer. 2020 Jan 6;20(1):9. doi: 10.1186/s12885-019-6451-1.

A cross sectional study to determine the prevalence of cough and its impact in patients with lung cancer: a patient unmet need.

Author information

Dorset Cancer Centre, Poole NHS Foundation Trust, Longfleet Road, Poole, BH15 2LB, UK.
Department of Medical Oncology, The Christie NHS Foundation Trust, Manchester, UK.
School of Nursing, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong SAR, China.
School of Health Sciences, Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK.
Royal Gwent Hospital, Wales Deanery, Newport, Gwent, Wales, UK.
Department of General Medicine, Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Cheltenham, UK.
Division of Infection, Immunity and Respiratory Medicine, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK.
Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, Manchester, UK.
Christie Patient Centred Research, The Christie NHS Foundation Trust, Manchester, UK.
Department of Medical Oncology, The Christie NHS Foundation Trust, Manchester, UK.
Division of Cancer Sciences, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK.



There is absence of literature related to cough prevalence and its characteristics in lung cancer patients, with information deriving only from broader symptoms occurrence studies. The aims of this study were to provide a snapshot of the prevalence of all-cause-cough in lung cancer patients and to characterise cough in terms of its impact and severity.


A cross-sectional study recruiting consecutive lung cancer patients over a pre-defined period of time and using cough-specific validated tools in a tertiary referral centre in the UK, including a cough severity VAS and the Manchester Cough in Lung Cancer scale (MCLCS).


Data was collected from 202 patients. All-cause cough prevalence was 57% (through VAS) both in the screened (N = 223) and research (N = 202) population or 67% (through the MCLCS), and cough severity was moderate at a mean of 32 mm (in a 100 mm VAS). Age, sex, smoking status, lung cancer histology, stage and comorbidities were not associated with cough prevalence. The only variable associated with lower cough reports was being 'on anticancer treatment'; fewer patients on treatment reported a cough (40%) compared to those off treatment (54%) (p = 0.04). The impact of cough (as measured by MCLCS) was also significant (mean score = 22). About 18% of patients felt moderate/severe distress from their cough and about 15% often or always reported disturbed sleep due to coughing. Half the patients felt their cough warranted treatment.


Cough is a common symptom in lung cancer with considerable impact on patients' lives. Cough presence and severity should regularly be assessed in clinical practice. There is an urgent need to focus on developing more potent antitussive treatments and improve the management of this complex and distressing symptom.


Cough; Impact; Lung cancer; Prevalence; Quality of life

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