Goals/objectives: To review the scientific evidence on cough associated with tumors in the lungs.
Methods: MEDLINE literature review (through March 2004) for all studies published in the English language, including case series and case reports, since 1966 using the medical subject heading terms “cough” and “lung neoplasms.”
Results: Primary bronchogenic carcinoma is the most common lethal neoplasm in the United States. Malignancies that arise in other organs will often metastasize to the lungs. Any form of cancer involving the lungs may be associated with cough. However, cough is far more likely to indicate involvement of the airways than the lung parenchyma because of the location of cough receptors. Cough is present in > 65% of patients at the time lung cancer is diagnosed, and productive cough is present in > 25% of patients. While cough as a presenting symptom of lung cancer is common, many studies have shown that lung cancer is the cause of chronic cough in ≤ 2% of all patients who present with a chronic cough.
Conclusions: Bronchoscopy is usually indicated when there is suspicion of airway involvement by a malignancy. Conversely, bronchoscopy usually should not be performed to assess a cough for the possibility of lung cancer when there is little risk for lung cancer (nonsmokers) and when there are normal findings on a plain chest radiograph. If the lung cancer can be removed surgically, cough will usually abate. Radiation therapy, chemotherapy (especially with gemcitabine), and endobronchial treatment methods likely will improve cough caused by lung cancer. Centrally acting narcotic antitussive agents are usually administered for the control of cough caused by lung cancer when other treatment methods fail.