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Lung cancer

Lung cancer occurs when abnormal cells in one or both lungs grow in an uncontrolled way.

The lungs are part of the body’s respiratory system. They are made up of a series of airways called bronchi and bronchioles that end in tiny air sacs called 'alveoli'.

Lung cancer is one of the most common and serious types of cancer.

Smoking cigarettes is the single biggest risk factor and is responsible for about 90% of all cases. If you smoke more than 25 cigarettes a day, you are 25 times more likely to get lung cancer than a non-smoker.

Cancer that begins in the lungs is called '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. They are:

  • non-small cell lung cancer (of which there are three different types: squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma and large cell carcinoma)
  • small cell lung cancer.

Symptoms of lung cancer include:

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

Survival rates can vary depending on how far the cancer has spread (the stage of the cancer) at the time of the diagnosis. Early diagnosis can make a big difference.

Personal story: Lung cancer

Being diagnosed with lung cancer can be both emotionally and practically challenging. Listening to others who have experienced similar situations is often re-assuring and can be helpful for you, your loved ones or when preparing questions for your doctor or a specialist.

Watch this video about a patient's experience after being diagnosed with lung cancer.

Read the related video transcript >

More information about this video >

Sources: (Lung cancer, aged 40-50, interview LC06), NHS Choices, UK (Lung cancer, Causes of lung cancer), Cancer Australia (What is lung cancer), NHS Choices, UK (Lung cancer)

Video Copyright: ©2013 University of Oxford. Used under licence from DIPEx. All rights reserved.

Last reviewed: August 2015

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