“When I was diagnosed with lung cancer, people asked me when I had given up smoking. But I’ve never smoked in my life.” Pat – a client at our Chandler’s Ford Support Centre. 

 

Lung cancer is the third most common cancer in the UK. Around 47,000 people are diagnosed every year. It can start in any part of the lungs or airways and is more common with increasing age – more than 40% of those diagnosed are over 75.

We often associate lung cancer with smoking - around 72% of cases are caused by it.  But people who have never smoked are also at risk, as Pat explains:

“When I was diagnosed with lung cancer people asked me when I had given up smoking. I was really annoyed because I’m 82 and I’ve never smoked in my life. I’ve worked in pubs so have been close to people who smoke, but my Doctor told me I had the type of lung cancer that wasn’t caused by smoking or passive smoking. And there’s no history of lung cancer in my family. I think more people need to understand that it’s not only caused by smoking.”        

 

Other causes or risk factors include:

  • Exposure to radon gas
  • Exposure to certain chemicals and substances in the workplace
  • A history of lung disease, such as tuberculosis
  • A family history of lung cancer

 

Signs and symptoms

There are usually no signs or symptoms in the early stages of lung cancer, but many people with the condition eventually develop symptoms including:

  • Having a cough for most of the time

  • Coughing up blood

  • A change in a cough that has been around for a long time

  • Loss of appetite

  • Unexplained tiredness

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • An ache or pain when breathing or coughing 

 

Seeing your GP and further tests
Please speak to your GP if you are worried about any of these symptoms, or think you might be at risk.  They will ask you about your health and general symptoms. They may examine you and ask you to breathe into a device called a spirometer which measures how much you breathe in and out. They may also ask you to have a blood test to rule out some of the possible causes of your symptoms, such as a chest infection. 

After this, your GP may refer you for a chest x-ray, which is usually the first test used to diagnose lung cancer. After that, you may have other tests including other types of scans, a bronchoscopy (a procedure which allows a Doctor to see inside your airways and remove a small sample of cells called a biopsy), or a different type of biopsy. Once tests have been done, it should be possible to know what stage the cancer is at, what sort of treatment will be most suitable and whether it’s possible to cure the cancer completely.    

Pat initially visited her GP about a pain in her hip. At the time she was caring for her husband who was in a wheelchair and thought she had strained herself lifting him. She says:

“My Doctor said she would refer me for a hip X-Ray and as I was leaving asked me if there was anything else bothering me. I happened to mention that I’d had a cough for some time and she wrote on the form that I should have a chest X-Ray too.  After that I was called back for a CT-Scan which confirmed I had cancer in my left lung.” 

 

Types of lung cancer
There are two main types of lung cancer:  

  1. Non-small-cell lung cancer. This is the most common form, accounting for more than 87% of cases. It can be one of three types: squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma or large-cell carcinoma
  2. Small-cell lung cancer – a less common form that usually spreads faster than non-small-cell lung cancer. 

 

Treatment
Like all cancers, treatment for lung cancer very much depends on the type, its size and position, how advanced it is and overall health. It may include surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Doctors work very closely with anyone diagnosed with lung disease to put together a personalised treatment plan. 

Pat had part of her lung removed and chemotherapy but had to stop when it began to affect her kidneys. She is now taking medication to manage her cancer. She says:   

“I’ve had a happy life and a great marriage – I was married to Bob for 54 years,” She says. “These things happen but I feel blessed because I met my best friend through Wessex Cancer Trust. We were actually diagnosed with cancer in the same week and now we meet up at the Chandler’s Ford Centre regularly for support. I can talk to the befrienders about anything and they understand. I’m making the most of life.”      

 

Prevention
If you do smoke, the best way to prevent lung cancer and other serious conditions is to stop smoking as soon as possible. NHS Smokefree can offer advice and support to help you give up. You can call 0300 123 1044 or visit their website https://www.nhs.uk/smokefree

Research suggests that eating a low-fat, high-fibre diet, including at least five portions a day of fresh fruit and vegetables and plenty of wholegrains, can reduce your risk of lung cancer, as well as other types of cancer and heart disease.   

There’s also strong evidence to suggest that regular exercise can lower the risk of developing lung cancer and other types of cancer. Most adults should do at least two hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week, plus strength-training exercises on at least two days each week.

Screening
Currently, there isn’t a national screening programme for lung cancer in the UK. However, trials and studies are assessing the effectiveness of lung cancer screening, so this may change in the future.   

For more information on lung cancer visit https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/lung-cancer/