Lung cancer is a type of cancer that begins in your lungs. If left untreated, it can spread beyond your lungs into nearby tissue or other parts of your body.
Key points about lung cancer
- Lung cancer is the fifth most common type of cancer in Aotearoa New Zealand.
- Smoking is the main cause of lung cancer, but 1 in 5 people diagnosed with lung cancer have never smoked.
- Signs and symptoms of lung cancer include a cough that doesn't go away and gets worse over time, constant chest or shoulder pain, shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing up blood or constant tiredness.
- Lung cancer is a difficult cancer to find early. If you notice any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor.
- The treatment for lung cancer depends on the type and stage (how far it has spread), its location and your general health and wishes.
What is the lung?
Your lungs are in your chest and are protected by your rib cage. They supply oxygen to your body.
What is lung cancer?
Lung cancer begins when abnormal cells grow in an uncontrolled way in one or both lungs.
Types of lung cancer:
- small-cell lung cancer
- non-small cell lung cancer
- other rare types.
Who can be affected by lung cancer?
People who smoke tobacco or smoked in the past are at the highest risk for lung cancer. But anyone can get lung cancer – 1 in 5 people diagnosed with lung cancer have never smoked. The chance of developing lung cancer increases with age.
What are the risk factors of lung cancer?
Anything that can increase your risk is called a risk factor. Having one or more of these risk factors does not mean that you will develop lung cancer.
The risk factors for lung cancer are:
- smoking, especially if you began smoking when young, smoked for a long period of time and smoked often
- exposure to second-hand smoke
- family history of lung cancer
- a history of lung disease, eg, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- a history of cancer
- exposure to cancer-causing agents such as asbestos, radon, diesel exhaust and air pollution.
What are the symptoms of lung cancer?
There may be no warning signs that you have lung cancer.
Some signs and symptoms may include:
- a cough that doesn't go away and gets worse over time
- constant chest pain or shoulder pain
- shortness of breath or wheezing or hoarse voice
- lots of lung infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia
- coughing up blood
- a chest infection that will not go away
- weight loss
- constant tiredness.
If you are experiencing any of these signs or symptoms, please contact your doctor immediately. Many other conditions can cause these symptoms, but it's best to get them checked out.
How can I find lung cancer early?
Lung cancer is a difficult cancer to find early. It is important to talk about any of your symptoms with your doctor as soon as you can. Your doctor can arrange the tests to assess your symptoms.
How is lung cancer diagnosed?
Doctors will listen to your chest for anything unusual. They may arrange further such as:
- sputum test (coughing up mucus or phlegm into a little container)
- a chest x-ray
- CT scan or PET-CT scan.
The doctor may also refer you to a specialist to do further tests, such as a bronchoscopy. This is when a small tube that has a camera attached is inserted through your nose to look inside your airways that lead to your lungs. You may be referred for a lung biopsy.
How is lung cancer treated?
The treatment for lung cancer depends on the type and stage (how far it has spread), the location of the tumour and your general health and wishes.
Treatment options may include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, radiofrequency ablation, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy. Other treatment options may also be offered.
How can I prevent lung cancer?
There is no certain way to prevent cancer, but there are some things you can do that may reduce your chances of getting it.
- not smoking, and if you do smoke, quit as soon as possible
- avoiding second-hand smoking – smoke from other people's cigarettes, cigars or pipes
- avoiding asbestos
- avoiding exposure to cancer-causing agents.
The following links provide further information about lung cancer. Be aware that websites from other countries may have information that differs from New Zealand recommendations.
Content used with permission from Te Aho o Te Kahu | The Cancer Control Agency as part of a National Content Hub Collaborative.