Last December, Laura was diagnosed with lung cancer by her physician at the nursing facility where she has been living for the past 3 years. She had been having trouble breathing for a few months, but hadn’t mentioned it to the nurses on the floor because, “I just thought it was a part of getting older.”

Laura is not alone. Many senior citizens dismiss signs that something is wrong, attributing them to old age and the challenges that go along with it. But these symptoms are often a sign of a more serious problem, such as lung disease. As healthcare professionals, you are in a position to spot these troublesome symptoms and report them to the physicians in charge.

Symptoms that may indicate lung cancer, COPD or asthma include:

  • A cough that just won’t go away. If a cough persists for 8 weeks or more, it is definitely cause for concern.

  • Chest pains that last for a month or more, especially if it hurts more when the patient breathes in or out.

  • Difficulty breathing, including shortness of breath and labored breathing, are a sign that something is wrong, unless the patient has just exerted himself.

  • Coughing up blood is never a good thing. It might be a sign of lung disease and it might be a sign of something else, but it definitely needs to be reported.

  • A runny nose for a month or longer can also be a symptom of lung disease.

  • Wheezing or noisy breathing are a sign that something is blocking the airways and making it difficult to breathe.

Fortunately, even fragile older people are likely to benefit from lung cancer treatment. Surgery, chemotherapy and other treatments are tolerated by most elderly patients, even into their 80s and 90s. The type of support that a patient has can have a critical effect on the success of treatment and that’s where you and the rest of the nursing facility staff come in.

To learn more about lung cancer, go to the website of the American Lung Association.