Introduction of Lung cancer

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

Read more about the symptoms of lung cancer.

The lungs

The lungs 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 called primary lung cancer. Cancer that begins in another part of the body and spreads to the lungs is known as secondary lung cancer. This topic is about primary lung cancer.

There are two main types of primary lung cancer. These 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, called squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma and large cell carcinoma)
  • 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 88% of all cases.

Small cell lung cancer

Small cell lung cancer accounts for around 12% 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. An estimated 40,800 new cases are diagnosed every year.

Lung cancer mainly affects older people. It is rare in people under 40 years old, but the rates of lung cancer rise sharply with age. Lung cancer is most commonly diagnosed in people who are 70–74 years old.

Smoking causes 85–90% of lung cancers. People who smoke are 15 times more likely to die from lung cancer than people who have never smoked. 

Read more about the causes of lung cancer.


Lung cancer does not usually cause noticeable symptoms until it has spread through much of the lungs or into other parts of the body. This is known as advanced or metastatic lung cancer. This means that the outlook for lung cancer is poor compared with other types of cancer.

Only 27% of men and 30% of women with lung cancer will survive for at least a year after being diagnosed. Just 7% of men and 9% of women 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. Early diagnosis can make a big difference.

Read more about diagnosing lung cancer.

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

Read more about the treating lung cancer.

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