Lung cancer is cancer that starts in the windpipe (trachea), the main airway (bronchus) or the lung tissue.
Lung cancer: The facts
• Lung cancer is the third most common cancer in Ireland.
• About 2,300 cases are diagnosed each year.
• Sadly, more Irish men and women die from lung cancer than any other type of cancer.
• Anyone can develop lung cancer, but some people have a higher risk than others.
• Smoking is the main cause of the disease.
• Lung cancer is increasing every year and is predicted to overtake breast cancer as the leading cause of cancer related deaths in women.
• When lung cancer is found at an early stage, there is a better chance of successful treatment.
The lungs are a vital organ in our body, located in our chest. We each have two lungs, which are cone shaped breathing organs that bring oxygen into our body and release carbon dioxide. Each lung is made up of lobes. The left lung has two lobes and the right lung has three. A thin membrane called the pleura surrounds the lungs. Lungs are protected by the rib-cage. Beneath the lungs is a dome shaped muscle called the diaphragm. This works with the lungs, allowing us to breathe air in and out.
Causes and risk factors of lung cancer
• Age – Lung cancer is more common in older people. 75% of cases are in people aged 65 and over.
• Smoking – This is the cause of most cases of lung cancer. The more you smoke, the more likely you are to get lung cancer. However, as soon as you stop smoking the risk of lung cancer starts to decrease. 15 years after you stop, the risk of getting lung cancer is down to that of a non-smoker. You can find more information about smoking in Ireland here. You can get advice on how to stop smoking here.
• Passive smoking – Breathing other people’s cigarette smoke increases the risk of lung cancer but the risk is still much less than if you smoke yourself.
• Chest problems – People who have had chronic bronchitis, emphysema, pneumonia or tuberculosis have an increased risk of lung cancer.
• Exposure to radon – This natural gas can be found in the air or trapped in buildings. It increases the risk, especially in smokers.
• Exposure to asbestos and some chemicals
What to look out for- symptoms of lung caner
The symptoms of lung cancer may include:
• Having a cough most of the time.
• A change in a cough you have had for a long time.
• Being short of breath.
• Coughing up phlegm (sputum) with signs of blood in it.
• An ache or pain when breathing or coughing.
• Unexplained loss of appetite.
• Unexplained tiredness (fatigue).
• Unexplained weight loss.
Some of these symptoms are very common and may not be caused by cancer, but you should see your GP to be sure. Knowing you have lung cancer at an early stage could save your life.
How lung cancer is diagnosed
If you experience any of the listed symptoms, see your GP. He or she will examine you and arrange for you to have tests. You may need to be referred to hospital for these tests. A chest x-ray will be taken to check for any abnormalities in your lungs. You may also be asked to give a sample of phlegm (sputum), so that it can be examined under the microscope for cancer cells- this is known as sputum cytology.
You may also have a bronchoscopy and/or a CT scan. A bronchoscopy is a thin flexible tube that is passed down your throat and into the lungs to examine them.
The CT scan uses x-rays to build up a three dimensional picture of the inside of your body.
Types of lung cancer
There is an important difference between primary and secondary cancer. Primary lung cancer is a cancer that starts in the lungs. Secondary cancer is a cancer that has started somewhere else in the body, for example the breast or bowel, and spreads to the lungs.
There are two main types of primary lung cancer: small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer. The two types respond to treatment quite differently.
Treatment for lung cancer
Your doctors will plan your treatment by taking into account a number of things including your general health and the size and position of the tumour. The stage of the tumour is very important in determining treatment, which may be surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy.
Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor or nurse any questions that you might have about your treatment.
Quit smoking to reduce your risk
Smoking is the leading cause of death in Ireland. If you are a smoker, speak to your doctor or pharmacist today for advice on how to quit. You can also call the National Smoker’s Quitline for free on 1800 201 203 or FREETEXT QUIT to 50100.
10 tips to help you quit
1. Prepare to quit – Write down your reasons for quitting and keep them close at hand.
2. Make a date to quit – And stick to it.
3. Support – Ask your family and friends for support.
4. Change your routine and plan ahead – Replace or change activities that you associate with smoking.
5. Be active – Regular activity is good for your health and helps you to manage stress.
6. Think positive – You may have withdrawal symptoms. These are positive signs that your body is recovering from the harmful effects of smoking. They will disappear.
7. Learn to deal with cravings – Try distracting yourself, having some water or taking some deep breaths.
8. Save money – Set aside money that you would otherwise spend on tobacco for a reward.
9. Watch what you eat – If you are worried about putting on weight, be careful about what you eat.
10. Take one day at a time – Remember, every day without smoking is good news for your health, your family and your pocket. If you slip-up, all is not lost. Set a new date and start again.
Tips are courtesy of the HSE Quit programme.
The health benefits begin the minute you stop smoking. Within 20 minutes your circulation will improve and your heart rate and blood pressure will get lower. This reduces your risk of heart attack immediately. Within eight hours, the carbon monoxide level in your blood will go down and the oxygen level will go up.
Information on Electronic or E-Cigarettes
We have a page with frequently asked questions about electronic or e-cigarettes here.
Other lung cancer resources
To download this information in leaflet format, click here.
To ask a Marie Keating Nurse a specific question, please click here.
If you would like to quit smoking, visit the HSE Quit website. Click here.