Lung cancer myths and facts

It can be difficult to separate the facts about the effects of smoking on your lungs from the fiction. Find out what's true and what's a myth.

The facts

  • Lung cancer is the UK's biggest cancer killer.
  • Nearly 35,000 people die from lung cancer in the UK every year.
  • Smoking is the single greatest avoidable risk factor for cancer. It causes one in four of all deaths from cancer in the UK.
  • Worldwide, smoking has caused an estimated 100 million deaths in the last century.
  • Around half of all regular smokers will die from the habit.
  • Smoking causes 90% of lung cancers in men and up to 86% of cases in women.
  • As soon as you stop smoking, your risk of lung cancer starts to go down. Ten years after you've stopped smoking, your lung cancer risk is half that of someone who's continued to smoke.
  • The length of time that you've smoked is important. If you've smoked 20 a day for 40 years, your risk of lung cancer is about eight times higher than if you've smoked 40 a day for 20 years.

The myths

Myth 1: it’s just a smoker’s cough

The truth is that a persistent cough is telling you something is wrong.

Myth 2: lung cancer is just a smoker’s disease

In reality, one in eight cases of lung cancer are not linked with smoking.

Myth 3: the only cause of lung cancer is smoking

Exposure to second-hand smoke and substances such as asbestos and radon gas will increase the risk.

Myth 4: lung cancer is a male, working-class disease

Lung cancer can affect anyone and there has been a big increase in the number of women affected.

Myth 5: only old people get lung cancer

Most people develop lung cancer in their 60s and 70s after many years of smoking, but occasionally people get lung cancer at a much younger age, even in their 20s and 30s.

Myth 6: lung cancer is a death sentence

New treatments have increased survival rates. If the cancer is caught early enough, it may be curable.

How you can keep your lungs healthy

  • By keeping physically active, you help to keep your lungs healthy. Read more about getting fit.
  • It's never too late to stop smoking. No matter how old you are, quitting can make a real difference to your health. Here's more advice on how to stop smoking.
  • If you don’t smoke, don’t start.

Page last reviewed: 16/05/2013

Next review due: 16/05/2015

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