Lung cancer 


Lung cancer awareness

At the launch of Lung Cancer Awareness Month, Gary Lineker and former patients talk in this video about why it's important to be aware of symptoms.

Lung cancer is one of the most common and serious types of cancer. Symptoms of lung cancer include:

  • coughing
  • unexplained weight loss
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain

The lungs

The lungs are a pair of sponge-shaped organs in the centre of the chest. They have two main purposes:

  • to transfer oxygen into the blood when you breathe in
  • to expel carbon dioxide out of the blood when you breathe out

The lungs are made up of a series of sections called lobes. The left lung consists of two lobes; the right lung is larger and consists of three lobes.

Types of lung cancer

Cancer that begins in the lungs is known as primary lung cancer. Cancer that begins in another part of the body before spreading to the lungs is known as secondary lung cancer. This article focuses on primary lung cancer.

There are two main types of primary lung cancer, which are classified by the type of cells in which the cancer starts. These are:

  • non-small cell lung cancer
  • small cell lung cancer

Non-small cell lung cancer

Non-small cell lung cancer is the most common type of lung cancer, accounting for around 80% of all cases.

Small cell lung cancer

Small cell lung cancer is less common and accounts for around 20% of all cases. Small cell lung cancer is more aggressive than non-small cell lung cancer, and it usually spreads faster.

How common is lung cancer?

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer (after breast cancer) in England and Wales, with an estimated 31,000 new cases diagnosed every year.

Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer-related death in both men and women. During 2007, there were 29,660 deaths in England and Wales due to lung cancer.

Lung cancer primarily affects older people. Cases are rare in people who are under 40 years old, but the rates of lung cancer rise sharply with age. The most common age range that lung cancer is diagnosed is 70-74.

Smoking is the single biggest risk factor for lung cancer, accounting for an estimated 85-90% of cases. People who smoke more than 20 cigarettes a day are 20 times more likely to develop lung cancer than non-smokers.


Lung cancer does not usually cause noticeable symptoms until it has spread through much of the lungs and/or into other parts of the body. This is known as advanced, or metastatic, lung cancer. Therefore, the outlook for lung cancer is poor in comparison to other types of cancer.

Statistics show that only 25% of people with lung cancer will survive for at least a year after receiving a diagnosis. Just 7% will survive for at least five years.

However, survival rates can vary widely depending on how far the cancer has spread (the stage of the cancer) at the time of the diagnosis. See the ‘diagnosis' section for more information about staging and survival rates.

Lung cancer is usually treated using a combination of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery.

  • show glossary terms
Lungs are a pair of organs in the chest that control breathing. They remove carbon dioxide from the blood and replace it with oxygen.

Last reviewed: 14/10/2009

Next review due: 14/10/2011


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