Lung Cancer

About the Condition

Lung cancer occurs when the genetic material of cells in the lungs become damaged or changed, producing mutations that affect normal cell growth and division. The abnormal cells then replicate, causing cancer. If undetected, the cancer can spread beyond the lungs and move to other parts of the body.

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in the UK, with around 41,000 people diagnosed each year*. There are two main types of lung cancer; non-small-cell, which accounts for 80% of cases, and small-cell, which is less common and often more aggressive*.

The single biggest causal factor in lung cancer is smoking cigarettes, which are thought to be responsible for about 90% of all cases*. Tobacco smoke contains more than 60 different toxic substances, which can lead to the development of cancer.

There are many other risk factors associated with lung cancer, which include:

  • Using other types of tobacco products, which can also increase your risk of developing lung cancer and other types of cancer, such as oesophageal cancer and mouth cancer. These products include:
    • Cigars
    • Chewing tobacco
    • Pipe tobacco
    • Snuff (powdered tobacco)
  • Smoking cannabis, which has been linked to an increased risk of lung cancer,
  • Passive smoking – If you do not smoke, frequent exposure to other people’s tobacco smoke (passive smoking) can increase your risk of developing lung cancer
  • Exposure to radon, which is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that comes from tiny amounts of uranium present in all rocks and soils. Radon doesn’t usually cause health problems but can sometimes build up in buildings. If radon is breathed in, it can damage your lungs, particularly if you are a smoker
  • Exposure to chemicals – there are a number of chemicals that have been linked to increased risks of lung cancer. These include substances such as asbestos, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, coal and coke fumes, silica and nickel. It has also been indicated that exposure to large amounts of diesel fumes for many years can increase the risks of lung cancer, as can exposure to exhaust fumes


The symptoms of lung cancer include:

  • Changes in a cough you’ve had for a long time
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing up phlegm with blood in it
  • Aches or pains every time you breathe or cough
  • Loss of appetite
  • Feeling tired
  • Chest infections that don’t go away with treatment

Less common symptoms of advanced lung cancer include:

  • Finding difficulty swallowing
  • Changes in the shape of your fingers and nails
  • Swelling of the face and neck
  • Pain under your ribs on your right side
  • Shortness of breath

If any of these symptoms apply to you, or if you have any concerns about similar symptoms, it is essential that you see your doctor at once, as your chances of recovery are much higher if your cancer is diagnosed early.


If you’re referred to CCL for diagnosis, your consultant or oncologist will advise you on which tests are relevant to your individual symptoms. Diagnosing lung cancer involves a range of examinations and tests, some of which may involve a short stay in hospital. Diagnostic tests for lung cancer include:

  • An X-ray, which is when low level radiation is used to create an image of the body
  • A Computerised Tomography (CT) scan, which shows a 3D image of the area being looked at
  • A bronchoscopy, during which a small tube is inserted through your mouth or nose to allow your doctor to look inside the airways of your lungs and take a sample of the cells, which is usually done under sedation
  • Sputum cytology, where a sample of your phlegm is taken and tested for cancer
  • A biopsy, where cell samples are taken for examination for signs of cancer
  • A thoracoscopy, which involves a tube being inserted into your chest to take tissue and fluid samples, usually done under general anaesthetic


At CCL, patients with lung cancer are treated by a team of different specialists, called a Multi-Disciplinary Team, or MDT. This team works together to create a treatment plan to suit the individual needs of the patient.

The type of treatment you will receive for lung cancer depends on several factors, including the type of lung cancer you have, the size and position of the cancer and how far advanced your cancer is. Options include:

  • Surgery
    • A wedge resection removes a portion of the lung that includes the tumor
    • A lobectomy involves removing a lobe of the lung.
    • A pneumonectomy involves removal of an entire lung

Surgical treatments of lung cancer can include thoracic surgery, which would be performed at an alternative hospital.
Treatment following surgery is usually carried out at CCL. These options include:

  • Radiotherapy, where high-energy rays are used to destroy the cancer cells
  • Chemotherapy, involving the use of chemical agents which are toxic to cancer cells, destroying them and preventing them from spreading to different areas. This can be given by injection or in tablet form.

Support Services

Cancer doesn’t just leave a physical impact on an individual, but that it can have a huge emotional effect as well. Cancer and its treatment can be overwhelming, causing a wide variety of emotions, and it is important to remember that there is no right or wrong response. Reactions vary hugely from person to person, and most people find that it becomes easier to cope when they’re given additional support, so that’s what we do.

At CCL we provide support both physically and emotionally before, during and after treatment. We offer a wide range of services for patients, as well as their loved ones, designed to make a very difficult time as easy as possible, and to give our patients the best treatment and support possible. These include counselling, physiotherapy, Pilates, group sessions and many more.

We can help by addressing many of the physical side effects of lung cancer including decreased mobility and exercise tolerance and weakness through education, management strategies, walking aids and strengthening exercises/classes. Breathing exercises and techniques are used to treat respiratory difficulties and pulmonary rehabilitation programmes devised to improve the cardiovascular fitness.


Lung Cancer Consultants


Cancer Centre London

Parkside Hospital