Around 44,500 people are diagnosed with lung cancer every year in the UK.
Lung cancer is the third most common cancer in the UK and affects mainly older people. It's rare in people younger than 40. Lung cancer is most commonly diagnosed in people aged 70-74.
Although people who have never smoked can develop lung cancer, smoking is the main cause and accounts for the vast majority of cases. This is because smoking involves regularly inhaling a number of different toxic substances.
There are two main types of primary lung cancer. They are:
- non-small-cell lung cancer – the most common type, accounting for more than 80% of cases;
- small-cell lung cancer – a less common type that usually spreads faster than non-small-cell lung cancer
The type of lung cancer you have determines which treatments are recommended.
There are usually no signs or symptoms in the early stages of lung cancer, but many people with the condition eventually develop symptoms including:
- a persistent cough
- coughing up blood
- persistent breathlessness
- unexplained tiredness and weight loss
- an ache or pain when breathing or coughing
Lung cancer doesn't usually cause noticeable symptoms until it's spread through the lungs or into other parts of the body.
Smoking cigarettes is the single biggest risk factor for lung cancer.
Tobacco smoke contains more than 60 different toxic substances, which can lead to the development of cancer. These substances are known to be carcinogenic.
While smoking cigarettes is the biggest risk factor, using other types of tobacco products can also increase your risk of developing lung cancer and other types of cancer, such as oesophageal cancer and mouth cancer.
These products include:
- pipe tobacco
- chewing tobacco
There are several ways doctors can diagnose lung cancer.
A chest X-ray is usually the first test used to diagnose lung cancer. Most lung tumours show up on X-rays as a white-grey mass. However, chest X-rays can't always give a definitive diagnosis so you may be referred to a specialist.
A specialist can carry out more tests to investigate whether you have lung cancer and, if you do, what type it is and how much it's spread. A CT scan is usually carried out after a chest X-ray. A CT scan uses X-rays and a computer to create detailed images of the inside of your body. A PET-CT scan may be carried out if the results of the CT scan show you have cancer at an early stage. The PET-CT scan can show where there are active cancer cells. This can help with diagnosis and treatment.
If the CT scan shows there might be cancer in the central part of your chest, you'll have a bronchoscopy. This is a procedure that allows a doctor or nurse to remove a small sample of cells from inside your lungs.
You may also be offered a different type of biopsy. This may be a type of surgical biopsy such as a thoracoscopy or a mediastinoscopy, or a biopsy carried out using a needle inserted through your skin.
If the condition is diagnosed early and the cancerous cells are confined to a small area, surgery to remove the affected area of lung is usually recommended.
If surgery is unsuitable due to your general health, radiotherapy to destroy the cancerous cells may be recommended instead.
If the cancer has spread too far for surgery or radiotherapy to be effective, chemotherapy is usually used.
Overall, about 1 in 3 people with the condition live for at least a year after they're diagnosed and about 1 in 20 people live at least 10 years.
However, survival rates can vary widely, depending on how far the cancer has spread at the time of diagnosis.
Early diagnosis can make a big difference.
If you smoke, the best way to prevent lung cancer and other serious conditions is to stop smoking as soon as possible.
Every year you don't smoke decreases your risk of getting serious illnesses, such as lung cancer.
Improving your diet and doing more exercise can also help to prevent developing lung cancer.