Facts about Lung Cancer

Bringing lung cancer out of the shadow Lung cancer – the disease

The UK’s deadliest cancer

Lung cancer is the UK’s biggest cancer killer.1 It kills almost 35,000 people each year – the equivalent of 96 people every day.1 This is more than breast cancer, prostate cancer, bladder cancer and leukaemia combined.2

Someone dies from lung cancer every 15 minutes.1

How many people are affected by lung cancer in the UK?

Around 23,000 men and 18,000 women are diagnosed with lung cancer each year.3 The disease accounts for one in 16 (6%) of all deaths in the UK,1 one in seven (13%) of all new cancer cases3 and more than a fifth of all cancer deaths.1

Who is at risk?

The majority of lung cancer cases are among smokers (over 80%)4 - although one in eight of all lung cancer deaths are among people who have never smoked.5

The number of lung cancer deaths in never-smokers is higher than the number of people who die from many other cancers including cervical cancer, and cancer of the kidney, liver, womb and bone.2,6,7

Passive smoking (second-hand smoking), exposure to radon gas, asbestos and other chemicals, together with diet and family history can all increase the risk of developing the disease.4

More women die from lung cancer than breast cancer2 and women smokers are twice as likely to develop the disease than men who smoke.8 Even among non-smokers, women’s risk of developing lung cancer is higher than men – this is thought to be due to genetic factors.8

Lung cancer incidence and mortality rates are strongly associated with deprivation. Lung cancer is two and half more common in deprived groups 3 and the most deprived are overall 21% less likely to have received chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery than affluent ones.9

In terms of geography, Scotland and the North of England have the highest number of lung cancer cases.3

What is the average survival of someone diagnosed with lung cancer in the UK?

Half of all people with lung cancer die within six months of diagnosis.10 Currently, nearly three out of ten of men with lung cancer in England (29.4%) will live for a year and less than one in ten (7.8% in England) are still alive five years after diagnosis.11 For women, these figures are 33% and 9,3% respectively.11

Wide variations persist in lung cancer treatment and care within the UK12 and you are four times more likely to survive from lung cancer in Chelsea, Stockport and Solihull than you are in Northumberland, Rotherham or Sunderland13 – a result of both socioeconomic and health provision factors.

How does this compare with other countries?

UK survival rates lag significantly behind UK other comparable EU countries – as well as Sweden, Denmark, Norway Australia and Canada.14 According to the Eurocare 4 Study, five year survival in the UK is 8.95% [England (8.6%), Scotland (8.0%), N Ireland (10.2%) and Wales (9.0%] compared to 12.3% in Europe.15 In addition, average five year survival is 15 percent in the United States.16

Iit is estimated that more than 3,500 deaths from lung cancer could be avoided each year, if survival rates were brought in line with the current European lung cancer survival average.17

Why is lung cancer survival in the UK so poor?

Poor survival from lung cancer is a result of a wide variety of factors. These are as follows:

  • Uncertainty among people as to when to seek help, not recognizing the symptoms and not seeking help until it is ‘too late’;
  • Reluctance to seek help due to the symptoms thought to be due just to smoking
  • Difficulty amongst GPs in identifying suspicious symptoms early enough;
  • Time taken to progress from first appointment through to diagnostic tests onto treatment is too lengthy in some areas;
  • A wide variation in quality and provision of cancer services across the country - as a result, not all patients are receiving the optimal treatment; for example, the proportion of patients who are receiving surgery varies from between 9.8% and 17% between different UK cancer networks.12
  • Decades of under-investment in people and equipment. Whilst many aspects of these problems have been addressed over the last 10 years, there is still limited capacity for specialist surgery, specialist oncology and specialist nursing in many areas.
  • Lack of screening programmes. Many other cancers have benefited from the development of screening programmes.
  • Patients in the UK may be generally less healthy, with more co-existing illnesses, and therefore less likely to be fit for such things as major surgery.


Note to editors:
In addition to sponsorship and grants from its constituent organisations, including charities, core funding for the UKLCC is obtained from membership fees received from pharmaceutical companies.


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