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lung cancer logoWhat is Lung Cancer?

Lung cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the lungs. This usually occurs in those cells that line the air passages. As the cancer cells grow, they can interfere with the normal functioning of the lungs. They can also spread from the original part of the lung to lymph glands around the airway, the opposite lung, bones, brain, and liver, as well as to other parts of the body.

Lung cancer is the second and third most common cancer in males and females in Singapore respectively. During the five-year period from 2011-2015, 14.8% of all cancer incidences in men were lung cancer cases. For women, the figure is 7.5%. Meanwhile, being the leading cause of cancer deaths in Singapore, lung cancer accounted for 27.1% of cancer deaths in males and 16.6% in females.*

There are two major types of lung cancer: small cell lung cancer (SCLC) and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). SCLC makes up about 10-15% of all lung cancer cases. It is an aggressive cancer which grows quickly and spreads early to other parts of the body. This type of lung cancer is strongly associated with cigarette smoking. NSCLC is not as aggressive as SCLC but is more common. It tends to grow and spread less quickly than SCLC. NSCLC includes squamous cell carcinoma, large cell carcinoma, and adenocarcinoma.


* Singapore Cancer Registry Annual Registry Report, Trends in Cancer Incidence in Singapore 2010-2014

Educational Videos

Recordings were done at the SCS Lung & Prostate Cancer Public Forum 2018. 

English Session


For other educational recordings, please visit SgCancerSociety Youtube 

Chinese Session


Risk Factors

  • Cigarette smoking is the number one risk factor of lung cancer. The risk of having lung cancer increases with the number of cigarettes smoked each day and the duration of smoking
  • Second hand smoke (passive smoke) is a major risk factor of lung cancer among non-smokers. No amount of exposure to second-hand smoke is safe
  • Lung cancer is more common in people above the age of 40
  • Exposure to cancer-causing chemicals increases the risk of lung cancer, e.g. asbestos, coal gas, chromates, nickel, arsenic, vinyl chloride, mustard gas and radon
  • A personal or family history: the risk of lung cancer may be higher if your parents, brothers or sisters, or children have had lung cancer. A lung cancer survivor, especially those who have smoked, may develop another form of lung cancer. 


The most effective method to reduce the risk of getting lung cancer is to avoid smoking. 


When lung cancer is diagnosed in the early stages, patients have a much higher chance of survival.

Low-dose CT scans may be used for the screening of lung cancers in individuals at higher risk. However, this method is not perfect and one needs to be prepared for false positive results (CT scan which indicate abnormalties but are eventually proven to be non-existent after further testing).

Signs & Symptoms

Often, there are no symptoms of lung cancer during its early stages. However, common symptoms of lung cancer may include:

  • General weakness, tiredness, and unexplained weight loss
  • Persistent coughs that worsen over time
  • Blood in sputum (Haemoptysis)
  • Shortness of breath, wheezing, or hoarseness
  • Recurring chest infection and fever
  • Constant chest pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Symptoms resulting from the metastases of lung cancer, such as a swollen liver, paleness, swelling of lymph nodes


Diagnosis is made using one or more of these tests:

  • Analysis of patient history and a physical examination
  • Chest X-ray
  • Sputum cytology: In some cases, examination of the sputum under the microscope may reveal cancer cells. Cancer cells may be coughed up from the lungs or airways
  • Bronchoscopy: A fibre-optic tube is passed through the nose or mouth into the trachea to the airways or bronchi. Suspicious-looking growths can be biopsied (a small piece of tissue is taken for examination under the microscope) to confirm cancer
  • Imaging studies: CT (computerised tomography), MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and PET (positron emission tomography) scans are performed to determine the extent of the cancer
  • Transthoracic needle biopsy: Under CT scan guidance, a needle is inserted into the chest to biopsy suspicious lumps in the lungs
  • Mediastinoscopy or video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery are invasive procedures that require general anaesthesia and hospitalisation; they are necessary if earlier tests do not provide conclusive results


Surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy are the 3 main methods of treatment. The type of treatment depends on the size, extent of the disease, the type of lung cancer, and the general health of the patient.


Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC)

Surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and targeted therapy may be used to treat NSCLC. As this tends to grow and spread slowly, surgery or radiotherapy may offer a chance of a cure if discovered early. Depending on the staging of NSCLC, the treatments are:




I & II

If the patient if fit enough, surgery is the treatment of choice to remove the cancer. Sometimes after surgery, further chemotherapy may be recommended to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence.

III A combination of radiation with or without chemotherapy is the usual treatment.
IV Treatment is mainly palliative i.e. relief of pain, treatment of blood loss and venous obstruction. Chemotherapy or targeted therapy may be needed.


Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC)

As SCLC is aggressive and tends to spread early to other organs, it is usually treated with chemotherapy. If the cancer is still localised in the lymph nodes of one lung, radiotherapy can be combined with chemotherapy to effectively treat the cancer and remove the cancer cells. Surgery is usually not recommended for SCLC.