Lung cancer is one of the most common and serious types of cancer. Around 44,500 people are diagnosed with the condition every year in the UK.

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

  • a persistent cough
  • coughing up blood
  • persistent breathlessness
  • unexplained tiredness and weight loss
  • an ache or pain when breathing or coughing

You should see your GP if you have these symptoms.

Read more about the symptoms of lung cancer.

Types of lung cancer

Cancer that begins in the lungs is called primary lung cancer. Cancer that begins in another part of the body and spreads to the lungs is known as secondary lung cancer. This page is about primary lung cancer.

There are two main types of primary lung cancer. These are classified by the type of cells in which the cancer starts. They are:

  • non-small-cell lung cancer – the most common type, accounting for more than 80% of cases; can be either squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma or large-cell carcinoma
  • small-cell lung cancer – a less common type that usually spreads faster than non-small-cell lung cancer

The type of lung cancer you have determines which treatments are recommended.

Read more about diagnosing lung cancer.

Who's affected

Lung cancer mainly affects older people. It's rare in people younger than 40, and the rates of lung cancer rise sharply with age. Lung cancer is most commonly diagnosed in people aged 70-74.

Although people who have never smoked can develop lung cancer, smoking is the main cause (accounting for over 85% of cases). This is because smoking involves regularly inhaling a number of different toxic substances.

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Treating lung cancer

Treatment depends on the type of cancer, how far it's spread and how good your general health is.

If the condition is diagnosed early and the cancerous cells are confined to a small area, surgery to remove the affected area of lung is usually recommended.

If surgery is unsuitable due to your general health, radiotherapy to destroy the cancerous cells may be recommended instead.

If the cancer has spread too far for surgery or radiotherapy to be effective, chemotherapy is usually used.

Read more about treating lung cancer.


Lung cancer doesn't usually cause noticeable symptoms until it's spread through the lungs or into other parts of the body. This means the outlook for the condition isn't as good as many other types of cancer.

Overall, about 1 in 3 people with the condition live for at least a year after they're diagnosed and about 1 in 20 people live at least 10 years.

However, survival rates can vary widely, depending on how far the cancer has spread at the time of diagnosis. Early diagnosis can make a big difference.

Read about living with lung cancer.

How well your local NHS performs

Clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) are NHS organisations that organise the delivery of NHS services in England. They play a major role in achieving good health outcomes for the local population they serve.

You can now check how your local CCG compares against others for lung cancer survival (PDF, 900kb).

Page last reviewed: 02/11/2015

Next review due: 02/11/2017