Lung Cancer

What is lung cancer?

Lung cancer is cancer of the trachea (windpipe), bronchus (airway) or lung air sacs (alveoli), although it is most often found in the bronchus. Lung cancer is the biggest cancer killer in Ireland causing one in five of all cancer deaths and it is the third most common type of cancer in both sexes. In women, breast cancer has been the leading cause of cancer mortality but deaths from lung cancer in women are now approaching those from breast cancer and if this trend continues lung cancer deaths will soon exceed those from breast cancer.

There are two main types of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC). NSCLC is the most common form of lung cancer and has better survival rates than SCLC, which tends to spread more rapidly.
Survival figures for lung cancer are considerably lower than those for the other major cancers.

What causes lung cancer?

Cigarette smoking is responsible for the majority of cases of lung cancer. Some 30% of heavy smokers develop lung cancer (when compared with only 1% of nonsmokers). Genetic factors also influence susceptibility to the effects of smoking, and consequently, the risk of developing lung cancer.

Exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (“passive smoking” or “second-hand smoking”) increases the risk of lung cancer in non-smokers. Other agents (“carcinogens”) can increase the risk of lung cancer by themselves or together with smoking (i.e. asbestos, radiation and various toxic chemicals). The number of cases they cause is small compared to lung cancer due to smoking

Treatment of lung cancer

Early detection of lung cancer may improve survival, but this has not yet been shown conclusively. Treatment may include surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, individually or in combination. Treatment needs to be tailored to the individual depending on the type and stage of the disease


Surgery to remove lung cancer is possible only in a minority of cases.
It is not appropriate if cancer has spread to other parts of the body or is in an area of the lung which makes removal impossible.


Radiation and/or chemotherapy may be used to reduce the size of tumours before surgery or as palliative treatment in advanced stages of the disease.
Chemotherapy is curative in only a limited number of cases (~5%).

Reproduced by kind permission of the European Lung Foundation