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Frequently asked questions about lung cancer

What is lung cancer?

In its simplest terms, lung cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal, cancerous cells in one or both of the lungs. Lumps of these cells form cancerous tumours that make it difficult for the lung to function properly.

Who gets lung cancer?

Lung cancer is UK's biggest cause of death from cancer, with almost 36,000 people dying from it each year. It's the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women in the UK, with a ratio of around three cases in women for every four cases in men. According to Cancer Research UK, over 46,000 people were diagnosed with lung cancer in the UK in 2014.

What are the risk factors for lung cancer?

Smoking is the single greatest avoidable risk factor for cancer. It is responsible for one in four of all deaths from cancer in the UK. Smoking causes around 90% of lung cancers.

There are benefits from quitting, once you stop smoking, your risk of lung cancer starts to go down. 10 years after you've given up, your lung cancer risk is about half that of a smoker.

What are the most common symptoms of lung cancer?

This is a tricky one because sometimes there aren't any symptoms of lung cancer. One in four people don’t even have symptoms when their lung cancer is advanced. In other people, symptoms that may suggest lung cancer can include:


Can non-smokers get lung cancer?

The March 2006 lung cancer death of nonsmoker Dana Reeve, the widow of Superman actor Christopher Reeve, shed some light on this issue. It turns out that more than 60% of new lung cancer patients have never smoked or already have quit smoking, say experts. In some of these people, exposure to secondhand smoke may actually be a culprit. Reeve, for example, a lounge singer, performed in some very smoky clubs. So in short, yes nonsmokers can - and do - get lung cancer. Some cases of lung cancer develop after a long-time smoker has quit, although the risk decreases with time

How is lung cancer treated?

To treat lung cancer, surgery to remove the tumour, radiotherapy (X-rays directed at the site of the tumour that kill or shrink cancer cells), chemotherapy (drugs that kill all fast-growing cells in the body including cancer cells), and experimental treatments are all part of your doctors toolbox. Before deciding on which treatment or combination of treatments is right for you, your doctor will have to determine how advanced your lung cancer is, a process called staging.

Can lung cancer be prevented?

The best way to prevent lung cancer is to avoid smoking and to avoid breathing in other people's smoke. If you smoke, quit. While the risk for former smokers remains elevated when compared to a non-smoker, it continues to fall with each year of smoking cessation. In fact, 10 years after you've given up, your lung cancer risk is about half that of a smoker.

There is some evidence that eating a healthy diet rich in fibre, fruit and vegetables may help reduce the risk of lung cancer.

According to Cancer Research UK higher levels of physical activity may lead to a 20-40% reduction in lung cancer risk.

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