Smoking and Lung Cancer

Smoking and lung cancer:

Smoking is the main cause of lung cancer, and is responsible for 90% of lung cancer cases diagnosed each year. Your risk of getting lung cancer is directly related to the number of cigarettes you smoke every day and the number of years you have been smoking. So not smoking or giving up smoking is the most important thing you can do to reduce your risk of lung cancer.

Other risk factors:


Lung cancer is more common in older people however this is changing, with more young people presenting with tobacco related illnesses. Three quarters of cases are in people aged 65 and over.

It is important to note that more than 90% of lung cancer cases are caused by smoking. Smoking rates are highest among young adults reaching 26% in the 25-34 year old age group. Smoking now can affect your health later. If you smoke, quit now.

Passive smoking

Breathing other people’s cigarette smoke increases the risk of lung cancer. This is known as second hand smoking. While not impacting your health as much as you would if you smoked yourself, second hand smoke is still incredibly harmful.

Chest problems

You are at increased risk of lung cancer if you have had:

  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Emphysema
  • Pneumonia
  • Tuberculosis.

Exposure to dangerous substances

A small per cent of lung cancers are caused by exposure to dangerous substances.

Radon is a natural gas that can be found in the air or trapped in buildings. It increases the risk, especially in smokers.

Exposure to asbestos and some chemicals may also put you at increased risk.

What are the symptoms of lung cancer?

The symptoms of lung cancer include:

  • Difficulty with breathing
  • A cough that won’t go away and lasts longer than three weeks
  • A change in a long-term cough
  • Repeated chest infections even after antibiotics
  • Wheeziness
  • Problems swallowing
  • Chest or shoulder pain
  • Coughing up blood-stained phlegm
  • Pain in your chest especially when you cough or breathe in.

There are more general symptoms too including:

  • Feeling more tired than usual
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Swelling in your face or neck
  • Difficulty swallowing.

See your family doctor

If you have any of these symptoms, it is very important that you go and see your GP (family doctor) without delay. A part of the reason that the survival figures from lung cancer are amongst the lowest or all cancer types is due to late diagnosis. These are the symptoms of many other things apart from cancer, so you shouldn’t worry too much, but it is really important that you do go to see your GP.

To learn more about lung cancer and receive support at every step of your lung cancer journey click here.

You can also view our latest lung cancer campaign Making Moments Matter, focused on the moments survivors have been able to experience due to the early diagnosis of lung cancer. 

For some helpful tip on how you can quit smoking, click here