November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month.

Lung cancer is a cancer of some of the cells in part of your lung, usually beginning in the lining of the bronchus (large air tubes) or bronchioles (smaller air tubes).  Lung cancer is New Zealand’s biggest cancer killer.

Anyone can get lung cancer.  Lung cancer happens when cells in the lungs change or mutate – these changes can allow cells to grow, divide and spread around the body in an uncontrolled way.  When cancer cells grow too fast, they stop organs of the body from performing properly. 

Things that cause cells to change include breathing in dangerous chemicals or smoking.  Unfortunately people are still at risk of lung cancer even if they were exposed to these things many years ago.

Like many types of cancer, we don’t always know why people get lung cancer.  However, there are some things that increase your risk of getting it.

Lung cancer is strongly linked to smoking (being an ‘active smoker’).  However, a number of people with lung cancer have never smoked.  Lung Cancer Canada states that as many as 15 percent of people with lung cancer have never smoked.

A non-smoker who has been exposed to smoke (a ‘passive smoker’) can have a 20 to 30 percent higher risk of developing lung cancer than non-smokers who haven’t been exposed.

Exposure to asbestos increases the risk of getting lung cancer. Some people may breathe in asbestos at work or during home renovations.

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

The symptoms of lung cancer can be different from person to person, but may include some or all of the following:

  • B      Blood when you cough or spit

  • R      Recurring respiratory infections

  • E       Enduring cough that is new or different

  • A      Ache or pain in shoulder, back or chest

  • T       Trouble breathing

  • H      Hoarseness or wheezing

  • E       Exhaustion, weakness or loss of appetite

    Lung cancer is a difficult disease to find early and there is no routine screening programme anywhere in the world.  For most people, their lung cancer is found after having symptoms for many months while others may have it discovered during a medical check-up. 

    If you notice any of the symptoms mentioned above, see your doctor.

    If you would like more information about lung cancer, you could visit this website: