A new study suggests that cough is common and sometimes painful among patients with lung cancer, but is less prevalent among patients who are receiving cancer treatment. The study was presented in the journal BMC Cancer.

In this cross-sectional study, patients with lung cancer were asked about the presence of cough. Patients who indicated a presence of cough were surveyed about pain with cough and severity. Cough severity was quantified based on a 100-mm visual analogue scale (VAS) and the Manchester Cough in Lung Cancer scale (MCLCS). The MCLCS includes values up to 40, which represents the highest level of severity.

Among study participants (N=202), 67% had non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and 31% had small cell lung cancer (SCLC), with 1.5% showing a mixed histology. Slightly more than half of the patients in this study had stage 3b to 4 NSCLC.

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The overall cough prevalence was 57%. The researchers reported that cough was less common among patients undergoing treatment for cancer (40%) than among patients not receiving cancer therapy (54%; P =.04).

Among patients who reported having cough, 23% indicated that it was painful, and 52% reported that they believed it warranted treatment.

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Using the VAS, patients with cough reported a median cough severity of 32 mm (interquartile range [IQR], 20-51). On the MCLCS, the median value among patients with cough was 22 (IQR, 16-27).

“For optimal cough outcomes, there is an urgent need for more attention and investment in identifying causes of cough in the lung cancer population, its potential underlying mechanisms and to test new antitussive treatments,” wrote the researchers in their report.


Harle A, Molassiotis A, Buffin O, et al. A cross sectional study to determine the prevalence of cough and its impact in patients with lung cancer: a patient unmet need. BMC Cancer. 2020;20(1):9.