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When a Cough is Something More Serious than a Cold

Posted Date: 11/28/2011
It’s that time of year again. The sounds of coughing and wheezing are becoming more frequent as “Cold Season” approaches. Though inconvenient, these colds can be treated with medicine, and may even clear up on their own. However, sometimes, these symptoms can signify a more serious health concern.

While coughing, shortness of breath, hoarseness and respiratory infections are often general consequences of cold and flu season, they can also point to lung cancer. Lung cancer is often considered a "silent killer." One-quarter of people with lung cancer show no symptoms until it is diagnosed, often at a well-advanced stage. With these patients, lung cancer is usually accidentally discovered when a chest X-ray or CT scan are performed for another reason. The other seventy-five percent develop some symptoms, which often seem harmless at first.

If you have a persistent cough, have coughed up blood or rust-colored phlegm, experience fatigue, unexplained weight loss, recurrent respiratory infections, or newly developed shortness of breath, you should see your primary care physician immediately.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in Brooklyn. The 5-year survival rate for lung cancer is only 15%, which is very low in comparison to other types of cancer. Early diagnosis is key for survival. At Maimonides, we offer narrow-band imaging bronchoscopy, which detects subtle cancers that aren’t visible to the naked eye.

The earlier the diagnosis, the less likely the disease has spread, making it easier to surgically remove the cancerous cells. For many lung cancer patients, lobectomy (the removal of a single lobe of the lung) is the preferred treatment for early-stage disease. Traditionally, an open approach is used where surgeons make a long incision and must cut or spread the patient’s ribs to reach the diseased part of the lung. However, when using a minimally invasive procedure called the VATS technique, Maimonides surgeons only need to create three small incisions. This minimally invasive approach reduces your time in the hospital, as well as your pain and your recovery time after the procedure.

If you experience persistent respiratory problems lasting more than a few weeks, don’t ignore them. See your primary physician to get a chest x-ray, and consider calling us at (718) 283-7652 for an appointment.

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Maimonides Medical Center    |    4802 Tenth Avenue    |    Brooklyn, NY 11219    |    718.283.6000    |