Lung cancer myths and facts

2 min read

It can be difficult to separate fact from fiction about the effects of smoking on your lungs. Find out what's true and what's a myth.

The facts

  • Smoking is the single greatest avoidable risk factor for cancer. It causes one in four of all deaths from cancer in the UK.
  • Worldwide, smoking has caused an estimated 100 million deaths in the last century.
  • Around half of all life-long smokers will die early.
  • As soon as you stop smoking, your risk of lung cancer starts to go down. 10 years after you've stopped smoking, your lung cancer risk is half that of someone who has continued to smoke.
  • The length of time that you've smoked is important. If you've smoked 20 a day for 40 years, your risk of lung cancer is far higher than if you've smoked 40 a day for 20 years.

The myths

Myth 1: it’s just a smoker’s cough

The truth is that a persistent cough is telling you something is wrong.

Myth 2: lung cancer is just a smoker’s disease

In reality, one in seven cases of lung cancer are not linked with smoking.

Myth 3: the only cause of lung cancer is smoking

Exposure to second-hand smoke and substances such as asbestos and radon gas will increase the risk.

Myth 4: lung cancer is a male, working-class disease

Lung cancer can affect anyone, and there has been a big increase in the number of women affected.

Myth 5: only old people get lung cancer

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 6: lung cancer is a death sentence

New treatments have increased survival rates. If the cancer is caught early enough, it may be curable.

How you can keep your lungs healthy

  • By keeping physically active, you help to keep your lungs healthy. Read more about getting fit.
  • It's never too late to stop smoking. No matter how old you are, quitting can make a real difference to your health. Here's more advice on how to stop smoking.
  • If you don’t smoke, don’t start.

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.