lung cancer

Of all the cancers, lung cancer is the biggest killer in New Zealand.

all about lung cancer

Lung cancer occurs when abnormal cells cluster together in the lungs and form a tumour. The tumour destroys healthy lung tissue. In 80-90% of cases, lung cancer is caused as a direct result of smoking.

If detected early, the tumour can usually be removed, however lung cancer is very hard to detect and most people have no symptoms at all until the advanced stages, by which time the cancer has spread (metastasised) to other parts of the body. Because of this, 90% of people diagnosed with lung cancer will die from it.

Lung cancer doesn’t display many symptoms in its early stages. But once the cancer develops, it will start to affect the lungs, and the symptoms may include:

  • A persistent, worsening cough
  • Coughing up excessive phlegm with blood
  • Chest pain with coughing or breathing
  • Recurring chest infections
  • Weight loss
  • In 80-90% of cases, lung cancer is a direct result of smoking (cigarettes, rollies, pipes, cigars) or of breathing in second-hand smoke.
  • Your chances of developing lung cancer increase with age. It’s most often diagnosed in men over 45.
  • Maori men are more than twice as likely to develop lung cancer than non-Maori men.
  • Some people also develop lung cancer from being exposed to substances like asbestos, air pollution or coal gas.
  • In a small minority of cases, the cause is unknown.

The good news for ex-smokers is that your risk of developing lung cancer decreases the longer you stay smoke free.

If your doctor suspects lung cancer, you might be sent to have a chest x-ray, and have a phlegm sample taken to test for cancer cells. Depending on the results, (sometimes tumours in the lung are too small to see properly on an x-ray) your doctor may then refer you to have a CT scan to have a better look at your lungs.

If tumours are detected, your doctor will recommend a biopsy to take a tiny sample of tissue from the tumour and test it for cancer cells. This is either done by putting a thin needle through your chest into the tumour, or by inserting a tube down your throat (bronchoscopy) under local anaesthetic.

If the lung cancer is still in its early stages and it hasn’t spread, you might be able to have surgery to remove a section of the affected lung, or a whole lung.

If the lung cancer is more advanced and has spread, your doctor might recommend chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

Unfortunately, compared to other types of cancer, lung cancer has a very low survival rate. 90% of people diagnosed with lung cancer will die from it.


Here are some useful brochures and resources that you can download for more information on lung cancer.

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