GP Update

Lung cancer update: What you need to know

Despite progress having been made in diagnosing lung cancer earlier, over half of patients still present with stage 4 disease. What are the facts you need to know about the biggest cause of cancer death in the UK?

nurse with a patient

Smoking and lung cancer

  • A smoker’s life expectancy is reduced by 10 years due to diseases caused by smoking, but if they stop smoking before they reach the age of 40, most of this risk can be avoided.
  • Stopping smoking at any age reduces the risk of developing lung cancer.
  • Encourage patients to ‘never quit quitting’
  • The total number of cigarettes smoked in a lifetime is more important than the number of years smoking.
  • The risk of lung cancer increases substantially after 40 years of smoking.
  • Starting smoking under the age of 20 is associated with a higher risk of developing lung cancer.
  • 5 per cent of lung cancers occur in people who have never smoked.

Lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

  • COPD is felt to be an independent risk factor for lung cancer
  • 1–2 per cent of patients with COPD will be diagnosed with lung cancer every year
  • Prevalence of lung cancer in people with COPD is up to 50 per cent
  • There is a five-fold increase in the incidence of lung cancer in people with COPD compared with smokers with normal pulmonary function.

National awareness campaigns

  • Following the national lung cancer awareness campaign in 2012, there were an additional 700 lung cancer diagnoses (9.1 per cent increase)
  • There was a 3.1 per cent increase in the rate of diagnosis of Stage 1 lung cancer
  • There was a decrease in the rate of late diagnosis
  • The number of two-week-wait referrals doubled between 2011 and 2015.

Stage at diagnosis and survival rates

  • 40 per cent of new lung cancer diagnoses in London occur via accident and emergency (A&E)
  • Only 11 per cent of lung cancers diagnosed through A&E are at an early enough stage which means they are suitable for curative treatment
  • The UK remains behind many other countries in diagnosing lung cancer earlier, for example the UK is nearly 5 per cent below Canada and Sweden in diagnosis at Stages 1 and 2
  • There has been a small but definite improvement in survival rates – five-year survival increased from 8.3 per cent in 2004 to 13.3 per cent in 2014
  • One-year survival increased from 25 per cent in 2000 to over 40 per cent in 2015.