My dad's dad died of lung cancer at 47 (he was a heavy smoker). My dad is 58 with no health problems, and he has never smoked cigarettes although he was a heavy marijuana smoker 30 years ago. I'm concerned about his tendency towards lingering coughs following colds. In the past three years, he seems to catch a lot of chest colds--mostly from my toddler son. While the rest of the adults might get a little sniffle, my dad gets coughs that last for weeks. The first winter of my son's life, my son had nearly constant colds and coughs from daycare, and my dad must have caught 5 of them that winter alone, when the other adults seemed to suffer only mild symptoms. This was winter 2011, and he then had about a year without illness. Then this Christmas my dad got really sick again--we all got a cold, but he had a bad cough and fever for much longer than anyone else did. I am sure he had bronchitis but he never went to the doctor (no chest pains or labored breathing, so he decided it wasn't pneumonia). I think he and my mom both had a little head cold in May, but that one didn't go to his chest. Now it's July and he's got a phlemy cough again. My son and I both did have a little cold without cough, but for my dad this started--as usual--with a bad sore throat and cough, then moving in to nasal congestion. It's been ten days and he says he feels totally fine now (no malaise or sore throat anymore), but he's still got a productive sounding cough and nasal congestion. Isn't this too long for a cold/cough to linger? And generally, why is he getting so much sicker than everyone else with every virus? Finally, I should mention that even when he's well he has a dry-sounding cough more often than I imagine is normal. At least a few times a day, usually triggered by laughing or shouting at a football game, etc. He also seems to clear his throat a lot. As you might have guessed, I have health anxiety issues, and am worried that he's got an underlying lung problem, specifically cancer.
I appreciate your concern. The pattern and frequency of lung infections your father has had are definitely abnormal and consistent with the diagnosis of chronic bronchitis, most likely secondary to his having smoked a lot of marijuana. Colds frequently last longer and are more severe when superimposed on many chronic lung diseases, including chronic bronchitis. In actuality such episodes that “go to his lungs” are bouts of acute bronchitis. The episodes and the symptoms you describe, extending over many years is more consistent with chronic bronchitis, Such symptoms can accompany but are not suggestive of lung cancer.
What is needed at this time is a thorough evaluation of his lungs by a physician, either a board certified family practice physician or a lung specialist (Pulmonologist). Without that and without appropriate treatment, your father’s condition will persist, if not worsen over time and you will have to contend with your anxiety as it does. I urge you to urge your father to arrange for a complete evaluation of his lungs. To do that will be in his best interest and yours.
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