Lung cancer: key points

  • In Scotland, lung cancer - which is defined to include the trachea, bronchus and lung - was the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in both men and women in 2015. It was the most common cause of death from cancer in both men and women in 2015.
  • Survival from lung cancer is poor with only 9.8% of patients still alive at five years after diagnosis.
  • In 2015, 2,531 men and 2,466 women were diagnosed with lung cancer in Scotland.
  • Excluding non-melanoma skin cancer, lung cancer accounts for 16.7% of all cancers diagnosed in men, and 15.2% of all cancers diagnosed in women.
  • Based on current rates of disease, an estimated 1 in 12 men, and 1 in 13 women develop lung cancer during their lifetime.
  • In the last ten years, the age-standardised incidence rate of lung cancer decreased by 15.5% in men, while increasing by 6.8% in women.
  • Historically, Scotland has had one of the highest rates of lung cancer in the world. However, mortality rates among men are now higher in some Eastern European countries, and rates in Danish women are approaching those in Scottish women.
  • Tobacco smoking is the main risk factor for lung cancer, accounting for an estimated 80-90% of cases in developed countries. Other risk factors include asbestos, ionising radiation (including domestic exposure to radon), and various chemicals usually encountered in occupational settings.
  • Per cigarette smoked, the risk of lung cancer seems to be higher in the west of Scotland than in some other populations, perhaps reflecting the additional effect of past occupational exposures, or other factors such as nutrition.
  • The cumulative risk of lung cancer can be reduced by around 90% in smokers who manage to quit before middle age. Thus smoking cessation policies and services play a major part in the primary prevention of lung cancer.
  • The risk of developing lung cancer is higher, and the probability of surviving lung cancer is lower, among people living in areas of socioeconomic deprivation.
  • Previous audits and international comparisons have suggested possible scope for improving outcomes from lung cancer in Scotland, and there is some recent evidence that a higher proportion of patients with lung cancer are now receiving potentially curative therapy in the context of disease management by multi-disciplinary teams.


Key Statistics:

  Males Females
Number of cases diagnosed in 2015 2,531 2,466
Prevalence at 31st Dec 2015 (cases / 100,000 pop)1 152.2 165.2
Number of deaths in 2015 2,075 1,972
% surviving 5 years after diagnosis2 8.8% 10.9%
Lifetime risk of developing lung cancer (from birth)


Lifetime risk of developing lung cancer (from age 54) 8.3% 7.5%

1) Number of lung cancer survivors at 31 Dec 2015 who had been diagnosed in the previous 20 years per 100,000 population.
2) Five year relative survival for patients diagnosed during the period 2007-2011 (not standardised).

Section updates:

  • The last major update of this section was completed in September 2017.  
  • The next major update is due to be carried out by end June 2018.