SummaryRead the full fact sheet
- There are different types of lung cancer.
- Treatment depends on the type of lung cancer.
- Specialist support and help is available to people diagnosed with lung cancer.
On this page
Being diagnosed with lung cancer has an enormous impact on you and your family.
You are not alone, and support is available to you. Lung Foundation Australia provides services and resources for people with lung cancer. You can connect with the Information and Support Centre using the online form or by calling Tel. 1800 654 301.
Some people experience judgement and stigma around a lung cancer diagnosis, especially around smoking. Remember that cancer is nobody’s fault and there are services that can help.
Lung Foundation Australia and Cancer Council offer non-judgemental support and understanding to anyone affected by lung cancer.
What is lung cancer?
Lung cancer begins when cells in your lungs grow in a way that is not normal. Cancer that starts in the lungs is known as primary lung cancer. It can spread to other parts of the body.
When cancer starts in another part of the body and spreads to the lungs, it is called secondary or metastatic cancer in the lung. This information is about primary lung cancer only. Cancer Council has more information about secondary and metastatic cancer.
There are two main types of lung cancer
- non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)
- small cell lung cancer (SCLC)
Treatment options are different for different types of lung cancer.
Getting the best cancer care
A lot can happen in a hurry when you’re diagnosed with lung cancer. The lung cancer guide to best cancer care can help you make sense of what should happen. This will help you with what questions to ask your doctor to make sure you receive the best care at every step.
Symptoms of lung cancer
Common symptoms of lung cancer can include:
- a persistent new cough (lasting more than three weeks) or a change in a cough you’ve had for a long time
- feeling out of breath
- pain in the chest or shoulder
- chest infection that lasts more than three weeks or that keeps coming back
- coughing or spitting up blood.
Some people don’t have any symptoms and lung cancer is found during other tests.
If you notice any symptoms or are worried, contact your doctor.
Often these symptoms are not cancer but it’s best to check with your doctor anyway.
Often there is no clear reason for getting lung cancer. There are some things that can make it more likely to develop lung cancer. These are called risk factors and they include:
- Smoking or being around smoking
- Breathing in asbestos
- Exposure to certain chemicals and air pollution
- If a family member has been diagnosed with lung cancer
- having another lung disease or being HIV positive may increase the risk of lung cancer.
The risk of getting lung cancer also increases as you get older.
Having these risk factors doesn’t mean you will develop lung cancer. If you are worried about your risk factors, talk to your doctor.
Tests for lung cancer
Your doctor may do some tests to check for or confirm lung cancer. For example:
There are often many tests involved with lung cancer. For more information about these tests you can read Cancer Council’s information about tests for lung cancer.
Prognosis and palliative care
When someone is diagnosed with lung cancer, their doctor will give them a prognosis. A prognosis is the doctor’s opinion about the cancer spreading and the chances of getting better. A prognosis depends on the type and stage of cancer, as well as the person’s age and general health.
Treatment for lung cancer tends to work better when the cancer is found early.
Lung cancer is often diagnosed at an advanced stage. This means treatment may be ongoing and life may not return to normal. However, newer treatments such as targeted therapy and immunotherapy are effective in some people with advanced lung cancer and are bringing hope to those who have lung cancer that has spread.
There are also treatments and services that can help improve day-to-day life for people living with advanced cancer.
Treatment for lung cancer
Treatment for lung cancer depends on the type of lung cancer and if it has spread to other parts of the body.
Treatment options for lung cancer can include:
- Targeted therapies
- Radiation therapy
Curative treatment means treatment to try to make all signs of the cancer go away. Curative treatment is usually only used for non small cell lung cancer in early stages.
For other types and stages of lung cancer, there are treatments that can help extend a person’s life and improve their quality of life. This is called palliative treatment.
Many people think that palliative treatment is for people who are dying but palliative treatment can help at any stage of advanced cancer.
Living with advanced lung cancer
Advanced cancer usually means cancer that is unlikely to be cured. Some people can live for many months or years with advanced cancer. During this time palliative care services can help.
Most people continue to have treatment for advanced cancer as part of palliative care, as it helps manage the cancer and improve their day-to-day lives. Palliative care is for any stage of advanced cancer and can help improve quality of life over many years. There are doctors, nurses and other people who specialise in palliative care.
Treatment may include chemotherapy, radiation therapy or another type of treatment. It can help in these ways:
- slow down how fast the cancer is growing
- shrink the cancer
- help you to live more comfortably by managing symptoms, like pain.
Treatment depends on:
- where the cancer started
- how far it has spread
- your general health
- your preferences and what you want to do.
Ask your doctor about treatment and palliative care services that may help you.
Living with advanced cancer is not easy. It may help to read stories of support and hope from people in a similar situation, like these real stories from Lung Foundation Australia.
Support for carers, family and friends
Caring for someone with cancer can be a difficult and emotional time. If you or someone you know is caring for someone with lung cancer, these organisations can help:
- Lung Foundation Australia Tel.1800 654 301
- Cancer Council Tel. 13 11 20
- Carer Gateway Tel. 1800 422 737
- Carers Australia Tel. 1800 242 636
Where to get help
- Your GP (doctor)
- Cancer Council Victoria Tel. 13 11 20
- Cancer Council Victoria, My Cancer Guide - Find support services that are right for you.
- WeCan website helps people affected by cancer find the information, resources and support services they may need following a diagnosis of cancer.
- Lung Foundation Australia Tel. 1800 654 301
- Quitline Tel. 13 78 48
- Understanding Lung Cancer, Cancer Council Australia, 2022
- Lung cancer your guide to best cancer care, Cancer Council Australia, 2021