Busting myths in lung cancer

There are a number of myths around lung cancer; many of which add to the ‘stigma’ of the disease. Click on the flashcards below to see the facts behind the fiction…

Only people who smoke get lung cancer

Approximately 15% of lung cancer cases occur in people who have never smoked.1

Other factors that may contribute include environmental exposure and second-hand smoke.2

All lung cancer patients have a cough

Although a lot (>65%) of people diagnosed with lung cancer have a cough at diagnosis, many do not present with a cough, and some have no symptoms at all.3,4

Lung cancer is a modern disease and did not exist before cigarettes

Lung cancer was first recognised in 1761, long before cigarettes existed. Although it was relatively rare, it caused those affected a number of health issues.5

Lung cancer only affects the lungs

Lung cancer can spread around the body in a process called metastasis. In lung cancer, tumours often spread to the brain and can cause loss of vital functions e.g. vision.6

Only men get lung cancer

Although lung cancer does affect more men than women (1 in 14 risk), a number of women still get lung cancer (1 in 17 risk).7,8

All lung cancer is the same

There is not just one type of lung cancer - there are two main types; non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer, with many more subtypes.9

You can’t live without two lungs so surgical removal of lung cancer is not possible

Actually, with removal of part or all of one lung is an option for localised lung cancer.10

Lung cancer only affects the elderly

Lung cancer is more common in older people but about a third (31%) of new cases and deaths (28%) occur in those aged under 65.11

Once lung cancer spreads it becomes untreatable

Once lung cancer spreads it is harder to treat, but while not typically curable it can be treated, and new options (targeted and immunotherapies) can prolong survival.10-12


  1. NHS. Causes of lung cancer. Available from: 

  2. Cancer Research UK. Risks and causes. Available from: 

  3. Kvale PA. Chest. 2006 Jan;129(1 Suppl):147S-153S.

  4. Cancer Research UK. Symptoms. Available from: 

  5. Yang,P. Semin Respir Crit Care Med. 2011 Feb;32(1):10–21.

  6. Wong J, et al. Current Oncology. 2008;15(5):25–45

  7. GLOBOCAN. [Internet, cited 2017 May 11] Available from: 

  8. American Cancer Society Key Statistics for Lung Cancer. Available from: 

  9. Cancer Research UK. About lung cancer. Available from: 

  10. NHS. Treatments. Available from: 

  11. SEER. Factsheet. Available from: 

  12. Cancer Research Institute. What Makes Immunotherapy a Promising Treatment for Lung Cancer? Available from: 

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