Lung cancer is the commonest cause of cancer death in the UK in both men and women resulting in 33,000 deaths per year.
There are 38,000 new cases in the UK each year with approximately 22,000 occurring in men and 16,000 in women with the gap continuing to close. Fifty years ago the ratio of men to women who developed lung cancer was 6:1 but this has now decreased to 7:5.
Smoking is responsible for greater than 80% of all cases of lung cancer. Other cancers are associated with passive smoking and smoke particle inhalation from wood and coal fires or cooking oils in confined areas.
There is also a risk from occupational exposure to asbestos, silica and chemicals released in chromate production and nickel refining.
Uranium and tin miners are also at increased risk due to inhalation of radon gas.
The role of genetic susceptibility is not clear. Some have stated that if one member of a family had lung cancer then there is a 2.5 times increased risk of another developing it and this risk increases to 6 times if the lung cancer developed at a rarely young age (40-59 years). However, there appears to be no increased risk amongst identical or non-identical twins which suggests that environmental causes are much more responsible than genetic causes.
Increasing the amount of fruit and vegetables in the diet is associated with a reduction in lung cancer. However, researchers were surprised to find that taking supplements of beta carotene which smokers had low levels, resulted in an increase in lung cancer.
The type of treatment depends on how big the tumour is and whether it has spread locally to involve other structures in the chest or has spread further.
If the tumour remains local, then treatment with surgery or radiotherapy can be curative. If the tumour has spread, an attempt is made to control the tumour with a combination of radiotherapy and chemotherapy.