Lung cancer

Description, causes, prevention, treatment and medicines

Lung cancer is one of the few types of cancer that has a number of known and proven risk factors.


About one out of 10 smokers develop lung cancer but studies show that exposure to smoke causes up to nine out of 10 cases of lung cancer.

Breathing in someone else’s tobacco smoke (passive or secondhand smoking) can cause lung cancer.

If you are a smoker

Most people started smoking when they were young, at a time when they were unconcerned with – or unaware of – health risks.

Smoking is addictive and this is the main reason smokers continue to smoke even though many people have tried to quit.

Your doctors understand this and will consider it when caring for you. They shouldn’t regard you negatively because you are (or were) a smoker.

If you need help quitting, call Quitline on 13 7848.

Non-smokers who have been frequently exposed to secondhand smoke have a 20–30% higher risk of developing lung cancer than non-smokers who have not been exposed. People who have never smoked and have not been around secondhand smoke have a 0.5% risk of getting lung cancer.

Exposure to asbestos

Although the use of asbestos has been banned nationally since 2003, it may still be in some older buildings. People who are exposed to asbestos have a greater risk of getting cancer. Some people are exposed to asbestos at work or during home renovations.

Exposure to other elements

Contact with the processing of steel, nickel, chrome and coal gas may also be a risk factor. Exposure to radiation and other air pollution, such as diesel fumes, also increases the risk of lung cancer.

What are the symptoms?

The main symptoms of lung cancer are:

  • a new dry cough or change in a chronic cough
  • chest pain or breathlessness
  • repeated bouts of pneumonia or bronchitis
  • coughing or spitting up blood.

Lung cancer is often discovered when it is advanced. It is sometimes detected during routine tests. A person may have experienced symptoms such as fatigue, weight loss, hoarseness or wheezing, difficulty swallowing, or abdominal and joint pain.

Having any one of these symptoms does not necessarily mean that you have cancer. Some of these symptoms may be caused by other conditions or by side effects of smoking. Talk to your doctor to have symptoms checked.

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