Lung cancer

Lung cancer statistics

  • Lung cancer is the 2nd most common cancer in the UK.
  • Around 39,000 people are diagnosed with lung cancer in the UK each year.

Types of Lung cancer

Lung cancer can either be primary (originate from the cells of the lung), or secondary (spread from another cancer in the body).
Primary lung cancers are either Non-small cell lung carcinomas (NSCLC) or Small cell lung carcinoma (SCLC). This is depending on which cells the cancer affects.
You can also have cancer of the lining of the lungs (the pleura) which is called a "Mesothelioma".

What causes lung cancer?


  • Smoking represents the main risk factor for lung cancer. The chemicals in smoke are "carcinogens" and they cause damage to the cells in your lungs causing cancer.
  • 9 out 10 cases of lung cancer are caused by smoking.
  • The length of time that you smoke is more dangerous than the amount that you smoke. So, for example, smoking 20 cigarettes a day for 10 years is worse than smoking 40 cigarettes (2 packs) a day for 5 years.
  • Pipe or cigar smokers are much more likely to develop lung cancer than cigarette smokers.
  • Young people are starting to smoke earlier and earlier, and the age of lung cancer diagnosis is increasingly younger; lung cancer can now appear from 40 years of age.
  • As soon as you stop smoking, your risk starts to fall but the additional risk remains for approximately 15 years even after you have stopped smoking.
  • In addition, passive smoking increases your lung cancer risk compared to a person who is in a clean environment, free from cigarette smokers.


  • Cannabis smoke contains four times more tar and carcinogens than that of tobacco.
  • The active ingredient of cannabis, THC, opens up your airways so that the cannabis smoke can penetrate deeper into your lungs.

Exposure to occupational carcinogenic factors

If you work with certain substances or carcinogens, you have increased risk.
These include radioactive materials, radon gas, nickel, chromium and asbestos.
The risk of developing lung cancer is even higher if you smoke as well.

Family History

If someone in your immediate family has lung cancer, you can be at a slightly increased risk. However, most lung cancers do not run in families.

Symptoms and Signs of lung cancer

There are several symptoms can help to identify if you have lung cancer. These overlap with other condition but some of the most well-known include:
  • a persisting cough
  • coughing up blood
  • New breathlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Losing your appetite and weight
  • a pain in your chest especially when you cough or breathe

Your GP will be able arrange initial investigations and assess whether and how quickly you need to see a specialist.

Assessment of possible lung cancer

  • There is no programme in the UK to screen for lung cancer.
  • A chest X-ray (CXR) is the fist investigation that you doctor may request. However, if a lung cancer is found on CXR, it is usually advanced.
  • If the CXR is abnormal or borderline, you may need to have a more detailed scan of your chest, such as a CT scan.
  • There are other investigations to look at your lungs or other organs more closely if necessary. These include bronchial fibroscopy where a camera is passed into your lungs for a better view. If the doctors suspect your cancer has spread, you may have scans of other parts of your body.

Treatment of lung cancer

Treatment depends on your type of lung cancer, and the size and if it has spread.
Surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy are all options that your specialist may propose.
Surgery may remove part of a lung, and this is called a lobectomy. Sometimes a whole lung is removed which is a pneumonectomy.
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