Lung Cancer Survival Rate: Symptoms and Myths Everyone Should Stop Believing
television presenter Johnny Irwin has discovered that he has terminal cancer, which started in his lungs and has now spread to his brain.
Presenter of Channel 4 A place in the sun and the BBC Escape to the countryside he said in a new interview that he doesn’t know “how long I have left” to live.
He first became aware that something was wrong when his vision blurred while driving in August 2020. After returning home from filming A place in the sunhe was given “six months to live”.
November marks Lung cancer Awareness Month – a disease that many of us think we know the key causes and symptoms of.
However, there are still some misconceptions about lung cancer – it is not necessarily just a ‘smoker’s disease’.
We speak to lung cancer experts to debunk the myths, so you have all the information you need…
Myth 1: Lung cancer only affects older people
According to John Costello, a pulmonologist at the Mayo Clinic (mayoclinichealthcare.co.uk), “Lung cancer is certainly more common in older people – the average age of diagnosis is 70 years. However, this may just reflect longer exposure to tobacco smoke.”
This does not mean that you will only get it if you are old. According to Lisa Jacques, lead cancer nurse specialist at Perci Health (percihealth.com), “Most people develop lung cancer in their 60s and 70s, after many years of smoking, but occasionally people get lung cancer at a much younger age , even in their 20s and 30s.”
Myth 2: Lung cancer is always caused by smoking
Although smoking can increase the chances of developing lung cancer, it is not the only cause.
“Smoking is the cause of most lung cancer and the biggest risk factor, but about 10% of people who get lung cancer have never smoked,” explains Jacques.
Costello adds: “There are some lung cancers that are genetic and may not be related to smoking, and others are caused by exposure to substances like asbestos, radon and second-hand smoke” – although he says these are “relatively rare”.
Myth 3: You can’t reverse the lung damage caused by smoking
“Some of the damage and inflammation caused by smoking can be reversed, but emphysema in particular is an architectural destruction of the lungs that causes extreme shortness of breath and cannot be reversed,” says Costello.
So quitting smoking might reduce your risk – but it’s much better not to start smoking at all.
Myth 4: Lung cancer is always fatal
A diagnosis of lung cancer does not mean certain death, but it is serious nonetheless.
“Lung cancer has a 60 percent five-year survival rate in people with localized disease,” says Costello. “If it has spread throughout the body at the time of diagnosis, the survival rate is only eight percent.”
However, he says there are “new techniques in lung cancer screening, such as CT scans in smokers over 50 with a heavy smoking history”. They “can pick up very small early tumors, which can be removed with a five-year survival rate of up to 80-90 percent.”
So if you’re worried about a persistent cough, visit your GP and get it checked out as soon as possible.
Myth 5: Women don’t need to worry as much about lung cancer as they do about other types of cancer
According to Cancer Research UK, men are more likely to develop cancer than women (52 percent of lung cancer cases are men, compared to 48 percent of women). However, these limits are small, and women absolutely must be aware of lung cancer.
“Lung cancer is an increasing problem in women since they have caught up with men in terms of smoking habits, so they are at risk if they smoke,” says Costello. “Some of the lung cancers associated with not smoking are more common in women.”
Jacques adds: “It is the third most common cancer in the UK and the second most common cancer in women.”
So whether you smoke or not, look out for lung cancer symptoms – such as a cough that lasts for more than two or three weeks, recurrent chest infections, shortness of breath or breathing pain – and see your GP if you have any concerns.