Clinical oncologist, Neil Bayman, explains what lung cancer is, the main types, risk factors, stages and common treatments available to you.
The lungs are the parts of the body that we use to breathe. Lung cancer is the third most common cancer in the UK. About 46,400 people are diagnosed with it each year.
There are two main types of primary lung cancer. These are:
Sometimes cancer spreads to the lungs from somewhere else in the body. This is called lung metastases or secondary lung cancer.
We also have information about cancer that affects the lining that covers the lungs (the pleura). This is called pleural mesothelioma.
Some people may get another type of cancer that starts in the lung. For example, a neuroendocrine tumour is a rare cancer type that sometimes starts in the lungs. We have more information about neuroendocrine tumours.
Booklets and resources
Smoking tobacco is the cause of most lung cancers and the biggest risk factor. This includes smoking cigarettes, cigars and pipes. People who do not smoke can still develop lung cancer, but their risk is much lower.
If someone stops smoking, their risk of developing lung cancer gets lower over time. After about 15 years it is almost the same as a non-smoker.
Lung cancer is also more common in older people.
We have more information about the risk factors of lung cancer.
People may be diagnosed with lung cancer after seeing their GP about their symptoms. If your GP thinks your symptoms could be caused by lung cancer, they will arrange tests to help make a diagnosis. These can include:
If these tests show anything abnormal, your GP will refer you to a chest specialist within 2 weeks. Sometimes they will do this before getting the result of the chest x-ray.
At the hospital, the specialist will explain any other tests you need. These may include:
During a biopsy, a doctor or nurse takes samples of cells or tissue from the abnormal area. They look at the biopsy samples under a microscope to check for cancer cells. You usually have a biopsy to find out for certain if you have lung cancer. There are different ways of collecting biopsies, including:
Waiting for tests results can be a difficult time, we have more information that can help.
Further tests for lung cancer
If tests show you have lung cancer, your specialist will arrange further tests. These may be to help with the staging of lung cancer.
You may have the following tests:
Your treatment plan will depend on the stage and type of lung cancer and your general health.
A team of specialists will meet to discuss the best possible treatment for you. This is called a multidisciplinary team (MDT).
Your doctor will explain the different treatments and their side effects. They will also talk to you about the things you should consider when making treatment decisions.
We have more information about treatment for lung cancer.
You have regular follow-up appointments after treatment. This will include regular CT scans or chest x-rays
You may get anxious before the appointments. This is natural. It may help to get support from family, friends or a support organisation.
Everyone has their own way of dealing with illness and the different emotions they experience. You may find it helpful to talk things over with family and friends or your doctor or nurse.
Macmillan is also here to support you. If you would like to talk, you can:
Well-being and recovery
Even if you already have a healthy lifestyle, you may choose to make some positive lifestyle changes after treatment.
Making small changes such as eating well and keeping active can improve your health and well-being and help your body recover.
Below is a sample of the sources used in our lung cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at email@example.com
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Lung cancer – Diagnosis and management. Clinical guideline 2019.
Metastatic non-small cell lung cancer: ESMO clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. 2018.
European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO). Early and locally advanced non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC): ESMO clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. 2017.
This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Dr David Gilligan, Consultant Clinical Oncologist.
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