Our lungs are important for breathing. When we breathe in, tiny air sacs in the lungs take up oxygen, which is then transported through the bloodstream to all parts of the body. When we breathe out, carbon dioxide is removed from the blood and released into the air.
Sometimes, the cells that make up the lungs can become malignant. This means that they do not work properly anymore and multiply uncontrollably, causing a tumour to grow. When this happens, this is called lung cancer.
Only a very few people who have had cancer before develop lung cancer.
Due to treatment of the first cancer, survivors sometimes have a higher risk of lung cancer. There are a number of things anyone can do to lower the risk of having lung cancer, such as avoiding smoking.
Am I at higher risk of lung cancer?
Anyone, including people who have never had cancer treatment, may develop lung cancer. However, there are some cancer treatments that may increase the risk of having lung cancer as a subsequent cancer later in life.
The following treatment can increase the risk of lung cancer:
Radiotherapy to the lungs or an area that includes the lungs
You can find out if you have received radiotherapy to the lungs by looking at your treatment summary. If you do not have a treatment summary or if you have any questions, do contact your treating hospital.
If you develop lung cancer, it does not always mean that this is caused by treatment for your first cancer. Lung cancer may have other causes, such as (second hand) smoking, being exposed to polluted air or working with harmful substances.
What are the symptoms and signs of lung cancer?
There are symptoms and signs that can tell you if you might have lung cancer. You might not have these symptoms and signs at the moment, but it is important to be aware of them in case they may develop in the future.
These symptoms and signs may suggest that you have lung cancer:
Having a cough for longer than 3 weeks.
Repeated infection in the chest.
Coughing up blood.
Chest pain when breathing or coughing.
A (usually painless) lump in the neck.
Shortness of breath.
Very often these symptoms have another cause, such as a lung infection. However, early diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer is very important. If you experience any of these symptoms or signs, please contact your general practitioner or follow-up care specialist soon.
I am at higher risk of lung cancer. What tests should I have and when?
If you are at higher risk of lung cancer, we do not recommend regular testing at this point. However, it is important that you are aware of the symptoms and signs of lung cancer. If you have any of these symptoms or signs, your general practitioner or follow-up care specialist may:
Do a physical exam.
Request an X-ray (lung photo).
Request a fibroscopy
What happens if I (might) have lung cancer?
If you (might) have lung cancer, your general practitioner or follow-up care specialist will refer you to an oncology team. This team may include, but is not limited to:
Chest physician (physician specialised in diseases in the area of the chest)
Thoracic surgeon (surgeon specialised in the area of the chest)
Medical oncologist (physician specialised in cancer)
Radiation oncologist (physician specialised in treating cancer with radiotherapy)
The specialist may discuss different treatment options with you.
What else can I do?
Knowing that you may be at increased risk of subsequent cancer can be difficult. Talking to friends and family can be helpful as well as specialist counselling and/or contact with support groups, such as patient organisations. For more information on taking care of your mental health, please read: Mental health problems.
To lower your risk of lung cancer, adopting or maintaining a healthy lifestyle is extremely important. In particular, it is important to avoid smoking (cigarettes, vapes, cigars, pipes and breathing in second-hand smoke) and being exposed to polluted air or working with harmful substances. Taking care of your mental health may be beneficial; even small changes to your lifestyle can have a positive impact on both your physical and mental health. For more information on taking up a healthier lifestyle, please read: Health promotion.
It is important that you are aware of the possibility of developing lung cancer and that you know the symptoms and signs. If you have any further questions or if the information in this brochure concerns you, please contact your general practitioner or follow-up care specialist.
Where can I find more information?
You may find more information about lung cancer online. However, it is important to be aware that this information is not always up to date or accurate.
On this website, you can also find more information related to this topic:
While the PanCare PLAIN information group strives to provide accurate and complete information that is up-to-date as of the date of publication, you can check with your general practitioner or follow-up care specialist if this summary reflects the most up-to-date information available and whether it is relevant for you.
Please do not rely solely on this information. It is best to also seek the advice of a qualified medical practitioner if you have questions regarding a specific medical condition, disease, diagnosis or symptom.
No warranty or representation, expressed or implied, is made concerning the accuracy, reliability, completeness, relevance, or timeliness of this information. PanCare has produced the English version and PanCare is not responsible for the translated versions of this summary.