Understanding cough and its management in lung cancer

Amelie S.M. Harle, Fiona H. Blackhall, Jacky A. Smith, Alexandros Molasiotis

Research output: Journal article publicationReview articleAcademic researchpeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose of review: This article summarizes the current understanding of cough in lung cancer, strategies for its management and highlights areas where further research is warranted. Cough is common, severe and distressing for many lung cancer patients. Currently few effective cough interventions exist for lung cancer patients. This review proposes some of the mechanisms that may underlie cough in lung cancer and presents the existing data on antitussive therapy in cancer patients. A greater focus on the cough mechanisms may enable effective antitussives to be developed in the future for lung cancer patients. A brief overview of the validated cough assessment tools is provided. The use of such tools will enable robust clinical endpoints to be determined for future cough intervention studies. A 'cough treatment pyramid' is presented to provide a pragmatic approach to the management of cough in lung cancer patients. Recent findings: Despite the small number of publications on cough in lung cancer, some recent research has characterized cough for the first time in lung cancer patients. Its impact on quality of life domains such as psychological, social and physical is significant. The lung cancer symptom cluster of cough, breathlessness and fatigue has also been described. A recently developed cough severity assessment tool has provided researchers with a short well validated seven-item questionnaire to determine this important cough characteristic. In addition, a Cochrane Database Systematic Review on Interventions for Cough in Cancer has also been published. These studies are all described in the present review. Understanding the impact of a symptom such as cough, the assessment of cough and its potential underlying mechanisms is crucial if we are to manage this symptom effectively. Summary: Current cough management in lung cancer patients is lagging behind the management of other cancer symptoms. There is now an increasing need to diagnose and treat cough more effectively, as lung cancer patients are living longer with chronic symptoms such as cough.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)153-162
Number of pages10
JournalCurrent Opinion in Supportive and Palliative Care
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Antitussives
  • Assessment tools
  • Cough
  • Lung cancer
  • Mechanisms

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Oncology(nursing)
  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


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