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Lung cancer

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The causes of lung cancer

There are an estimated 47,000 new cases of lung cancer in the UK every year. It is commonly caused by cigarette smoking although it can occur in one in 10 non-smokers too, through passive smoking or – in some rare cases – by exposure to certain chemicals.

By stopping smoking or reducing your exposure to passive smoke, you will dramatically reduce your risk of developing the condition.

Lung cancer is most common in men, especially over the age of 40. However in recent years, the number of women developing lung cancer has significantly increased.

On average, lung cancer takes the life of around 90 people per day, causing more fatalities than any other form of cancer. It’s important to understand the risks to reduce the impacts.

Spotting and diagnosing lung cancer

There’s no effective screening test currently available for lung cancer like there are for some other forms of cancer.

If you spot any of the symptoms listed below, it’s important that you get them checked by a doctor. The symptoms are not always down to cancer, but it’s still advised that you get them examined to be on the safe side.

The most common symptoms of lung cancer are:

  • Coughing up blood
  • A cough which persists for longer than two or three weeks and gets worse during that time
  • Feeling short of breath
  • Discomfort in the chest or pain when you breathe in deeply
  • Losing appetite and/or weighty

The first course of action if you notice any of these symptoms is to consult your doctor, who may then send you for a chest X-ray. You may then be referred to have further tests, such as a biopsy, which will take a sample of cells from your lungs for further examination.

You may also be referred to have the following tests:


This is where a thin tube is passed into your airways via your nose or mouth. Photos and cell sample will then be taken for further analysis.


Similarly, a tube is inserted into the chest, however this is done via a small cut at the base of the neck under general anaesthetic. This tube then enables a doctor to examine the area in the centre of your chest.

Lung cancer treatment

There are two main types of lung cancer and the treatment that you’ll need will depend on which one you are diagnosed with.

Small-cell lung cancers (SCLC) account for around a quarter of all lung cancer cases and spreads rapidly. The remainder consists of non-small-cell lung cancers (NSCLC).

For SCLC, chemotherapy is often the most effective means of treatment. This is because the cancer is usually spread across different areas of the body. You may also need additional radiotherapy treatment alongside this.

Surgery can be used as treatment for NSCLC if the tumour is away from the centre of your chest and the cancer hasn’t spread too far. Depending on the stage and severity of the cancer, a portion of the lung may be removed (this is known as a wedge resection) or in some cases, the entire lung in a process called a pneumonectomy.

You can still breathe normally with one lung, although if you already had troubles with your breathing beforehand, you may find that you become increasingly breathless. Before deciding on the right treatment or operation, you’ll go through a series of breathing examinations to decide the next steps.

Lung cancer can cause blockages in the airways or in your windpipe, which results in increased breathlessness. Targeted procedures such as laser surgery can provide some relief in these instances.

Research is still being carried out into lung cancer and its causes and as a result, new treatments and processes are being studied all the time. This research also looks into different ways of carrying out existing treatment like chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

During and after lung cancer treatment

It’s not uncommon for new symptoms or illnesses to develop during the course of your illness. This may be due to the cancer spreading to other areas of your body. Additional symptoms can also be caused by other hormones released by the cancer cells and these can upset the body’s natural chemical balance.

In any case of new symptoms developing, consult a doctor or other healthcare professional involved in your lung cancer care. They will be able to diagnose the issue and guide you to any additional treatment which might be required.

Lung cancer care at home

Being diagnosed with cancer is a distressing time. Lung cancer care at home can help you or someone close to you affected by cancer while in hospital or as you recover from treatment.

Care at home can involve:

  • Personal care including washing, dressing and helping you use the toilet
  • Help around the home such as running errands and preparing meals
  • Making sure you’re comfortable after chemotherapy or radiotherapy treatment
  • Administering any medication you need
  • Low-level medical assistance such as support with oxygen therapy

With nearly 30 years’ experience of providing quality home care, we’re here to help you and your family come to terms with a diagnosis of lung cancer. We work with Macmillan nurses and doctors to make sure you have the right care for your needs.

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We’re here seven days a week to talk through your home care needs and find the best option for you. Call 03300376958 or request a callback and we will call you.

Page reviewed by Kerry Feltwell, Regional Clinical Lead on November 11, 2021

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