Lung cancer

Find out more about lung cancer, including how common it is and ways to reduce your risk

How common is lung cancer?

Lung cancer is the third most common cancer in the UK. In 2017, 47,941 cases of lung cancer were diagnosed*.

What is the function of the lungs?

The lungs transfer oxygen into the blood when you breathe in and remove carbon dioxide from the blood when you breathe out.

Who is most at risk of lung cancer?

As with all cancers, the risk of developing lung cancer depends on a number of factors and varies from person to person.

Lifestyle risk factors

Other risk factors

  • Previous lung disease – a history of emphysema, chronic bronchitis, tuberculosis or pneumonia is linked with an increased risk of lung cancer
  • Occupational exposure – eg from exposure to asbestos. See our report on lung cancer for more information

If any of these risk factors apply to you, it doesn't mean that you will definitely develop lung cancer – it just means that your risk may be higher than average. The good news is that there are steps you can take to reduce your risk.

How can you reduce your risk of lung cancer?

These steps are based on research from our Continuous Update Project (CUP).

  • Don't smoke

Smoking is the main cause of lung cancer. Over 90 per cent of cases in men and over 80 per cent in women worldwide are due to tobacco use. By far the most important thing you can do to prevent lung cancer is to not smoke, or to give up smoking. If you do smoke, stopping smoking will reduce your risk. The NHS stop smoking service can help you quit.

  • Don't take high dose beta-carotene supplements

Consuming high-dose beta carotene supplements can increase lung cancer risk in smokers and ex-smokers.

This is one of the reasons we recommend you do not rely on supplements for cancer prevention. In general, it's best to get all the nutrients you need from a healthy balanced diet rather than from supplements.

However, dietary supplements, in addition to varied diets, may sometimes be beneficial for specific population groups or for individuals that have been given advice by an appropriately qualified health professional – for example, iron and folic acid supplements for women who are trying to conceive.

Visit NHS Choices to find out about the symptoms and treatments of lung cancer.

*Cancer statistics based on combined data from EnglandScotlandNorthern Ireland and Wales. World Cancer Research Fund, 2020.