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A teenage boy enjoys a laugh with his grandma.

Got concerns? Don’t delay.
It’s important to get health advice early

Lung Cancer is our leading cause of cancer deaths

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in New Zealand, more than breast, prostate and skin cancer combined. And if you are of Māori descent, the chances (rates) of lung cancer are nearly four times higher than non-Māori.

As with some other cancers, early diagnosis of lung cancer (before it has spread) may mean a better chance of survival.

Detecting & diagnosing lung cancer

Your whānau doctor can assess your symptoms and any risk factors you may have. They may also get you to do some initial lung tests to look into your symptoms further. These tests may include:

  • chest x-ray – an x-ray of the chest can show tumours 1 cm wide or larger. Small tumours may not show up on an x-ray
  • lung function test – blowing into a device to assess how well your lungs work
  • sputum cytology – testing your mucus or phlegm

Depending on the results of your tests, your doctor may refer you to a specialist who can arrange further tests, such as:

  • biopsy – taking a small tissue sample from the lung or lymph nodes
  • testing for gene changes – some people may have a gene that helps cancer grow
  • imaging tests (like a CT or MRI) – scans that take a detailed picture of the inside of your body. These scans can detect smaller tumours than those found by chest x-rays

If lung cancer is diagnosed, you will likely be referred to a surgeon who specialises in lung surgery, a medical oncologist or another specialist.
Some of the tests performed will likely tell your doctor what type of lung cancer you have and how far it has spread. This is called staging and can assist your doctors in determining your prognosis and what treatment options may be available to you.
The aim of treatment in earlier stages of lung cancer is to get rid of all the signs and symptoms of the cancer. For those diagnosed with advanced disease, the aim of treatment is to slow down the spread of cancer, manage symptoms and maintain quality of life.

If you continue to experience symptoms even after you’ve been prescribed medication or had a chest x-ray, talk to your doctor again and ask if there are any other tests they would consider.

Grandma is giving her favourite grandson a kiss on the cheek.

If you have concerns about your lung health, make that appointment with your doctor.

Do it for yourself, do it for your friends, whānau and loved ones – do it for your dog. It doesn’t matter why – just do it.

Right now is good.

Te Whatu Ora. Historical Cancer. Available at . Accessed on 07.05.2023
Te Aho O Te Kahu. Lung Cancer Quality Improvement Monitoring Report. Available at Accessed 5.5.2021
Hawkes,N. BMJ 2019; 364 :l408 doi:10.l136/bmj.l408
Cancer Society. Understanding Lung Cancer. Available at Accessed on 28.04.2023