Lung cancer: introduction

Lung cancer is a major public health concern worldwide. In Scotland, lung cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in both men and women, excluding non-melanoma skin cancer. In 2014, 2,696 men and 2,611 women were diagnosed with lung cancer in Scotland. Survival is generally poor with nearly 10% of patients remaining alive at five years after diagnosis. Lung cancer is the most common cause of death from cancer in both men and women.

Tobacco smoking is the main risk factor for lung cancer, accounting for an estimated 80-90% of cases in developed countries. The cumulative risk of lung cancer can be reduced by around 90% in smokers who manage to quit before middle age (Peto et al, 2000; Crispo et al, 2004). Thus smoking cessation policies and services play a major part in the primary prevention of lung cancer.

Trends in incidence of, and mortality from, lung cancer reflect historic trends in smoking prevalence in Scotland. In common with several other countries, incidence rates of adenocarcinoma (subtype of lung cancer) have increased over time, perhaps associated with changes in cigarette design, although squamous cell carcinoma remains the predominant type of lung cancer among men in Scotland (Harkness et al, 2002).

It has been shown that, per cigarette smoked the risk of developing lung cancer is higher in the west of Scotland than in some other countries' high risk cohorts in Gilles et al, 1988 paper).

Several randomised trials of screening by chest x-ray and sputum cytology have not demonstrated a reduction in mortality from lung cancer. The advent of low-dose spiral CT scanning has re-awakened interest in screening for lung cancer, and several trials are underway in different countries (USA, The Netherlands and France).