Lung cancer

Find out more about lung cancer

Lung cancer is the leading cause of death by cancer in France. It most often develops from the bronchial tube cells. Lung cancer is a ‘silent’ cancer, just like liver cancer and pancreatic cancer, and is generally detected when at an advanced stage. Over one in two cases of lung cancer are diagnosed when metastasis has already occurred. Lung cancer is difficult to treat. It spreads easily because of the high blood flow through the lungs. People tend to develop lung cancer between the ages of 50 – 65. Men are less affected than in the past, while more women now develop lung cancer. The number of new cases in women has quadrupled since 1980 because of smoking.

Smoking is by far the leading cause of lung cancer.

Cigarettes contain at least 50 carcinogenic chemical substances which very swiftly cause damage to the lung cells. Damage can already be detected in very young smokers. They are almost 10 times more likely to develop lung cancer than a non-smoker. Active smoking is the cause of 92% of lung cancer deaths in men and 71% of deaths among women. The risk of cancer increases based on the amount of tobacco smoked and the length of time someone has been a smoker.

Inhaling asbestos dust at work is another major risk factor. Asbestos is the cause of 12% of lung cancers in men aged over 55 and 7% in the 35-55 age bracket with the appearance of mesothelioma on the pleura. Similarly, exposure to other chemicals (crystalline silica, chromium, bitumen and hydrocarbons) may cause lung tumors to develop.

Late-appearing symptoms

Common symptoms of lung cancer are respiratory problems (cough, chronic bronchitis and being short of breath), sharp or chronic pain (a ‘stitch’ type pain similar to a muscle strain, shoulder pain similar to rheumatism) and coughing up phlegm with traces of blood in it.

A number of tests are used to diagnose the stage and extent of the cancer: chest x-ray, chest scan and bronchial fibroscopy during which samples are taken (biopsy). These tests detect any pulmonary, intrathoracic, hepatic and adrenal lymph nodes metastases.

Complex treatment

Three types of treatment are used for lung cancer: surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. A treatment is chosen based on the patient’s general state of health, age and medical history.

Lung cancer survival rates are unfortunately low: 14% of patients survive for five or more years, while 9% survive for 10 or more years. The risk of relapse varies greatly and is closely linked to the stage at which the cancer was detected and whether or not the person continues smoking. Most reoccurrences of lung cancer occur within two years of initial treatment.


Institut Curie, Le cancer du poumon : vers des traitements plus personnalisés

Institut National du Cancer, Le cancer du poumon : le tabac comme facteur de risque

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