Lung Cancer Q&A

Two of our leading lung cancer specialists answer common questions on lung cancer, including signs and symptoms, early diagnosis and effective treatments.

Qamar Ghafoor
Lung cancer is one of the most common cancers in the UK with around 44000 new patients diagnosed each year. It occurs when there is uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells that start off in one or both lungs.


Sarah Khan
Lung cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells within the lungs. Cells can change from “normal” to “abnormal” as result of mutations that arise in the DNA of a cell. We know that certain environmental factors can cause these “mutations” to occur, such as cigarette smoke, asbestos fibres, radon gas. Lung cancer is the leading cause for deaths from cancer for both men and women.

Qamar Ghafoor
Lung cancer can manifest with a variety of symptoms. Commonly these include :

  • a persistent cough
  • coughing up blood
  • persistent breathlessness
  • unexplained tiredness and weight loss
  • an ache or pain when breathing or coughing

Sarah Khan
Common symptoms can be a cough, recurrent chest infections, feeling short of breath, coughing up blood, chest pain and more general symptoms such as weight loss and fatigue. If you experience any of these symptoms it is important to seek medical advice. Some patients may not have any symptoms at all.

Qamar Ghafoor
In 85% of patients who develop lung cancers smoking is believed to be the cause. There are much rarer causes including chemicals such as arsenic, asbestos, cadmium, nickel and radon. Genetic predisposition is not believed to be a strong risk for lung cancers, but further ongoing research is looking at this.


Sarah Khan

The risk of developing lung cancer is strongly associated with smoking. There are different types of lung cancers some of which are more strongly associated with smoking than others.

Inhalation of asbestos is associated with an increased risk of developing certain lung cancers. There are a small number of patients that are non-smokers that will develop lung cancer. Lung cancer is not hereditary although some patients that develop lung cancer may have other family members who have been diagnosed with cancer, lung or otherwise.

Qamar Ghafoor

Tobacco smoke has many chemicals and particles that irritate the airways and lungs. This can lead to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Furthermore, cigarette smoke contains a number of cancer-causing substances (carcinogens) which damage normal lung tissue.

At first your body may be able to repair this damage. But with each repeated exposure, normal cells that line your lungs are increasingly damaged. Over time, the damage causes cells to act abnormally and eventually cancer may develop.


Sarah Khan

Approximately 90% of lung cancers are smoking related. We know that by stopping smoking, one can reduce ones risk of developing lung cancer.

Between 20% - 30% of lung cancers are caused by “second hand” smoke either at home or at work. Smoking is also associated with many non-malignant conditions of the lung such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema, pulmonary hypertension all of which can cause significant symptoms.

Cigarette smoke is a carcinogen (chemical that causes cancer). By affecting the DNA of cells with in the lung It can cause a normal cell to develop into an abnormal or cancerous cell. This cell will continue to divide uncontrollably thereby causing a cancer to develop. Eventually, the cancer will start to cause symptoms and can spread to other organs with in the body.

Qamar Ghafoor

Even for life-long smokers there is clear benefit to stopping smoking.

Smoking can cause permanent inflammation and scarring of the lungs, but with time there can be improvement once an individual has stopped smoking.


Sarah Khan
Smoking can cause permanent damage particularly if people continue to smoke. However, for patients that stop smoking there is evidence that their risk of developing lung cancer reduces. For people who have stopped smoking for 10 or more years there is a significant reduction in their risk. Stopping smoking can significantly reduce an individual's risk of developing lung cancer. Smoking is also associated with an increased risk of developing other cancers and heart disease.

Qamar Ghafoor

There is no strong evidence to show that diet affects lung cancer. Nevertheless, a balanced nutritious diet will help maintain an individual’s well-being.

Sarah Khan

There are no proven associations between diet and lung cancer. There is some evidence that suggests beta carotene can increase the risk of lung cancer, particularly in smokers.

Everyone should ensure that they have a healthy balanced diet containing fresh fruit and vegetables and carry out regular exercise.

Qamar Ghafoor

There are many other treatment options including chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and targeted molecular inhibitors.

Furthermore, radiotherapy can sometimes cure if not control lung cancer. There are various types of radiotherapy including conformal, intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT ) and stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR).


Sarah Khan

There are different types of lung cancer and the treatment will depend on the type of lung cancer. They are broadly divided into 2 groups, non-small-cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer.

Treatment of lung cancer depends very much on the stage of the cancer. For patients with cancer that have been detected early when the cancer is confined to the lungs, radical or curative treatments are considered such as surgery and radiotherapy. If the cancer is advanced or has spread outside the lung to involve other organs, palliative treatments such as chemotherapy, immunotherapy and biological agents are used.

There is a lot of research into lung cancer and patients should discuss what clinical trials are available with their doctor.

Qamar Ghafoor

Our health is the most important thing in our lives. Being able to care for people when they need the medical profession is the most rewarding feeling. There is nothing more fulfilling than a “thank you” from a patient with cancer.

Sarah Khan

I decided on a career in medicine when I was 15.

I have enjoyed all of my training and have now been a consultant in medical oncology for 8 years. It is a challenging profession and much has changed since I qualified as a junior doctor in 1996. It’s hugely rewarding and humbling.

The focus has always been my patients and will always be my patients.

Qamar Ghafoor

Setting up the Lung Cyberknife and SABR pathway in Birmingham has enabled over 100 patients who could not have their lung cancer operated to still be cured of their disease.

Sarah Khan
Managing full-time work and a family and all the challenges that come with that!

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