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Lung cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in Ireland, accounting for about 20% of all deaths from cancer each year. It is the leading cause of cancer deaths in men and the second most common cause (after breast cancer) in women. The disease is uncommon before the age of 40.
Cigarette smoking is the main cause of lung cancer. The more cigarettes smoked per day and the lower the age at which smoking started, the greater the risk of lung cancer. This is one of the most preventable kinds of cancer. At least four out of five cases are associated with cigarette smoking.
Exposure to passive smoking has also been shown to increase the risk of developing lung cancer. Living in an environment with a high level of air pollution or working with substances such as asbestos may cause some cases of lung cancer.
Stopping smoking works. The risk of lung cancer for an ex-smoker fall to the same level as a non-smoker after 15 years.
The first and most common symtom is a cough. This occurs in about 80% of people with lung cancer.
Other symptoms include:
Early diagnosis is difficult because many of the symptoms of lung cancer resemble those of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Indeed, most lung cancer patients will also have COPD because both conditions are mainly caused by smoking, although only 1%-2% of COPD patients will go on to develop lung cancer. However, the doctor will examine the individual and order one or more of the following tests:
Treatment choices and long-term survival with lung cancer depend on the type of cancer, location, size, lymph node involvement and whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. It will vary depending on the type of cancer small cell cancers respond best to chemotherapy whereas other types (often referred to collectively as non-small cell cancer) are better treated with surgery or radiotherapy.
Any treatment strategy will probably include surgery, radiation or chemotherapy, or a combination of these.
While surgery can cure lung cancer, only one in five patients are suitable for this treatment. The tumour must not have spread outside the chest and the patient must not have severe bronchitis, heart disease or other illnesses that will place too great a strain on the patient for him or her to be able to survive surgery.
The earlier lung cancer is treated, the more successful treatment is likely to be. However, survival rates for lung cancer after five years is poor. The majority of people with lung cancer will benefit from symptom control that improves their quality of life. Given the low success rate in curing cancer, prevention is the best hope of limiting the condition.