About lung cancer

Smoking causes 4 in 5 cases of lung cancer

What causes lung cancer?

Not smoking is just one of the things you can do to lower your risk of developing cancer
Lung cancer: did you know?


Smoking is the main cause of lung cancer and nine out of 10 people who get lung cancer get it because of smoking. Your risk of getting lung cancer is directly related to the number of cigarettes you smoke every day and the number of years you have been smoking. So not smoking or giving up smoking is the most important thing you can do to reduce your risk of lung cancer.


Lung cancer is more common in older people. Three quarters of cases are in people aged 65 and over.

It is important to note that more than 90% of lung cancer cases are caused by smoking. Smoking rates are highest among young adults (18-34 years), reaching 27.3% in the 25-34 year old age group. Smoking now can affect your health later. If you smoke, quit now.

Passive smoking

Breathing other people’s cigarette smoke increases the risk of lung cancer, but the risk is still much less than if you smoked yourself.

Chest problems

You are at increased risk of lung cancer if you have had:

  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Emphysema
  • Pneumonia
  • Tuberculosis.

Exposure to dangerous substances

A small per cent of lung cancers are caused by exposure to dangerous substances.

Radon is a natural gas that can be found in the air or trapped in buildings. It increases the risk, especially in smokers.

Exposure to asbestos and some chemicals may also put you at increased risk.

What are the symptoms of lung cancer?

The symptoms of lung cancer include:

  • Difficulty with breathing
  • A cough that won’t go away
  • A change in a long-term cough
  • Repeated chest infections even after antibiotics
  • Wheeziness
  • Hoarse voice
  • Problems swallowing
  • Chest or shoulder pain
  • Coughing up blood-stained phlegm
  • Pain in your chest especially when you cough or breathe in.

There are more general symptoms too including:

  • Feeling more tired than usual
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Swelling in your face or neck
  • Difficulty swallowing.

See your family doctor

If you have any of these symptoms, it is really important that you go and see your GP (family doctor). These are the symptoms of many other things apart from cancer, so you shouldn’t worry too much, but it is really important that you do go to see your GP.

How lung cancer is diagnosed

lungsIf you experience any of the listed symptoms, see your GP. They 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.

Phlegm test

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.

Bronchoscopy or scan

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. You will be sedated in order to carry out this test.

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 spread to the lungs.

There are two main types of primary lung cancer:

  • Small-cell lung cancer
  • Non-small cell lung cancer.

The two types respond to treatment quite differently.

Treatment for lung cancer

Your doctors will plan your treatment by discussing your case with experts taking into account a number of things including your general health, the size and position of the tumour, the cell make up and the stage of the tumour. This information 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. Do remember your lung cancer will be individual to you and the treatment you receive will be specific to you.