Lung cancer

What is cancer?

Cancer refers to many different diseases but they are all due to cells growing too much, forming a tumour. The type of cancer is named according to the type of cell which is growing too much. As the tumour grows it destroys normal cells around the tumour and can break away to spread around the body. The cancer cells can spread to the lymph glands near the tumour and to other organs in the body. The stage of the cancer depends on the size of the tumour itself, whether lymph glands are affected and whether other organs are affected. Lung cancer starts from cells within the airway or lung.

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in the UK. You may wish to read more at the Cancer Research UK website or the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation

What causes lung cancer?
Smoking is the biggest cause of lung cancer. This includes second hand smoking (passive smoking). People who do not smoke can also get lung cancer. The number of people who have never smoked and get lung cancer is increasing. Other factors do not raise the risk of lung cancer as much as smoking, but are relevant. These include:

Exposure to diesel exhaust, asbestos, silica, radon gas

Air pollution


Lowered immunity

Previous lung disease, such as TB

Certain types of previous cancer treatment

What operations are used to treat lung cancer?
Surgery is the treatment of choice for early stage lung cancer. The best type of operation will depend on both the tumour and how fit you are. Generally they involve removing part of the lung with tumour in it and the surrounding lymph glands. All of this tissue is sent to the laboratory and tested. The results help confirm the stage of the cancer and guide whether you would benefit from additional treatment such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

See Pneumonectomy Lobectomy Segmentectomy and wedge resection

Some operations are done to control symptoms of lung cancer. For example, if a tumour is blocking part of the airway and causing shortness of breath. Another example would be if fluid is collecting around the lung and causing shortness of breath.

See Bronchoscopy Pleural biopsies, Pleurodesis and Pleural catheters

What are the alternatives to surgery?
You can discuss treatment options with your surgeon, your lung cancer nurse (CNS) and your respiratory physician. Surgery gives the best chance of becoming free from cancer if you have early stage lung cancer. If you do not want surgery or are not fit enough to have an operation other options may include:

  • Radiotherapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiofrequency ablation
  • Palliative care