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Lung cancer


What is lung cancer?

Cancer that starts in one or both of the lungs is known as primary lung cancer. When cancer starts in another part of the body and spreads to the lungs, it is called secondary or metastatic cancer in the lung.

You can access further information about lung cancer, including risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment from Cancer Council Victoria. You can also call our trusted cancer nurses on 13 11 20 for support and to learn about our range of services for people affected by cancer.

The Victorian Cancer Registry also operates an interactive web portal, Data Explorer, which provides more trends and statistics than published here.

How common is lung cancer?

In 2020, 3233 Victorians were diagnosed with lung cancer. Of these, there were 1685 males and 1548 females, representing 52.1% and 47.9% of the total Victorian lung cancer diagnoses, respectively. Currently, lung cancer is diagnosed at a rate of 26 per 100,000 males and 22.4 per 100,000 females. The median age at diagnosis of lung cancer is 71 years in males and 71 in females (Figure 1 & 2). Accounting for 9.3% of all cancers diagnosed and 18.3% of all cancer-related deaths in 2020, lung cancer was the 4th most commonly diagnosed cancer and the most common cause of cancer-related deaths in Victoria.


Figure 1: Distribution of lung cancer incidence in 2020, by sex within age groups

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)


Figure 2: Distribution of lung cancer incidence in 2020, compared to the distribution of the Victorian population in 2020, by 5-year age brackets

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)

Lung cancer morphology

Figure 4 provides a summary of the different types of cells (morphology) which have caused lung cancer among all cases. Almost 90% of lung cancer tumours are non-small-cell lung carcinomas (NSCLC), a group that can be further divided by cell type. Most lung cancer tumours, 40.1%, present as Adenocarcinoma (NSCLC) tumours.


Figure 4: Distribution of lung cancer morphologies between 2011-2020

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)


Lung cancer subtypes

Figure 5 provides a breakdown of lung cancer by its location in 2020. Most (41.8%) are found in the Upper lobe section of the lung.


Figure 5: Distribution of lung cancer subsites in 2020

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)

Geographical variance in lung cancer by local government area

Figure 6 demonstrates variation in age-standardised incidence rates of lung cancer, by local government areas. Darker shading indicates areas with higher rates of lung cancer.


Figure 6: Variation in the incidence of lung cancer for the period 2016-2020, by location of residence in Victoria

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)


Lung cancer in people born overseas

Figure 7 shows the age standardised incidence rates of lung cancer in Australian-born Victorians compared to other major migrant groups, over the five-year period 2016 to 2020. The highest age standardised incidence rate for lung cancer was 33.2 for males born in the Southern Europe region and the lowest rate of 12.5 was observed in males born in the Southern and Central Asia region. The highest age standardised incidence rate for lung cancer was 22.9 for females born in the UK and Ireland region and the lowest rate of 7.4 was observed in females born in the Southern and Central Asia region.


Figure 7: Age standardised incidence rates and 95% confidence intervals for lung cancer in Victorians born in Australia compared to Victorians born in other countries for the period 2016-2020, by sex

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)


Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)



Lung cancer five-year relative survival

Figure 8 shows the change in 5-year survival for lung cancer, and the 5-year survival trend for all cancers over the same time period. It demonstrates that five-year relative survival has increased for lung cancer between 1985-1989 and 2015-2019 from 10% to 25%.

Figure 8: Trend in five year relative survival following diagnosis of lung cancer in five year brackets, from the period 1985-1989 to 2015-2019

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)

This webpage was last updated in May 2022