Lung Cancer

Note: The information on cancer types on the ACRF website is not designed to provide medical or professional advice and is for information only. If you have any health problems or questions please consult your doctor. All statistics have been sourced from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Lung Cancer Statistics

  • In 2009, lung cancer was the 5th most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia.
  • Lung cancer is most commonly diagnosed in people aged 65-79.
  • In 2010, lung cancer was the most common cause of cancer death for men and women.
  • The five-year survival rate for lung cancer is 14.1 per cent.
More cancer stats

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The dedicated lung cancer site hosts information and latest bowel cancer research news in one place.

Lung Cancer Overview

The lungs are part of the body’s respiratory system. They are made up of a series of airways called bronchi and bronchioles that end in tiny air sacs called alveoli. The lungs allow blood to carry oxygen around the body.

Lung cancer forms within the cells of the lung and usually develops in the lining of the airway.

There are several types of lung cancer, each beginning in a different type of cell in the lung. The two main groups include:

Small cell carcinoma: This type of cancer accounts for about 12 per cent of all lung cancer cases. It usually arises from epithelial cells that line the surface of the middle of the lung. This type of cancer is associated with a history of smoking. Sometimes the cancer will stay confined to the place in the chest in which it originated; this cancer type is described as ‘limited’. Once the cancer has spread it is described as ‘extensive’.

Non-small cell carcinoma: This cancer type accounts for over 60 per cent of lung cancer and is the most common form. It consists of a different group of cancers that tend to grow and spread more slowly than small cell carcinomas. There are three main types of non-small cell carcinomas. They are:

    • Squamous cell lung cancer: The most common type of non-small cell carcinomas. Squamous cell lung cancer develops from the cells that line the airways and it is often found near the centre of the lung in one of the main airways.
    • Adenocarcinoma: Develops from the cells that line the airways that produce mucus (phlegm). It is often found in the outer areas of the lungs.
    • Large cell carcinoma: Called large cell carcinoma because the cells look large and rounded under a microscope. This type of lung cancer does tend to grow rapidly.

While not strictly a lung cancer, mesothelioma is a rare chest and abdominal lining cancer mainly affecting people exposed to asbestos particles.

Although the causes of lung cancer are not fully understood, there are a number of factors associated with the risk of developing the disease. These factors include: tobacco smoking, a family history of lung cancer and previous lung diseases such as lung fibrosis, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and pulmonary tuberculosis.

Lung Cancer Symptoms

  • Chest pain or breathlessness
  • Coughing or spitting up blood
  • A new dry cough or change in a chronic cough
  • Recurrent bouts of lung infections such as pneumonia or bronchitis

Lung Cancer Treatment

A number of tests will be performed to investigate symptoms of lung cancer and confirm a diagnosis. Some of the more common tests include:

    • Chest X-ray
    • Imaging of the lung and nearby organs
    • Examination of the inside of the lung using a bronchoscopy
    • Taking a sample of tissue from the lung for examination (known as a biopsy)

Treatment for lung cancer does depend on the stage of the cancer, your breathing capacity and general health. In most cases surgical removal of a tumour offers the best chance of a cure for patients who have early-stage lung cancer.

Types of lung cancer surgery include:

Lobectomy: Surgery where one lobe of a lung is removed (the right lung has 3 lobes, and the left lung has 2 lobes). A lobectomy is most commonly performed for a non-small cell carcinoma in which the tumour is confined to a single lobe. It is less invasive and conserves more lung function.

Pneumonectomy: A procedure to remove an entire lung. There are two types of pneumonectomy procedures:

    • Standard Pneumonectomy: Either the right lung or the left lung is removed in its entirety.
    • Extrapleural pneumonectomy: One of the lungs is entirely removed along with part of the diaphragm, the membrane lining the chest cavity and part of the membrane lining the heart.

Wedge resection: Removes a small area of the lung that includes part of one or more lobes.

Treatment for lung cancer can also depend on the type:

    • Non-small cell carcinoma is best treated with surgery if possible – this will depend on the size and location of the tumour. Otherwise a combination of radiotherapy and chemotherapy can be an option.
    • Small cell carcinoma is usually treated with chemotherapy. Some people with cancer in one lung (known as limited) will have the option of preventative radiotherapy to the chest and brain. Since small-cell carcinoma usually spreads early, surgery is not usually advised for this type of cancer.

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