Secondary lung cancer

If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with secondary lung cancer, we can provide the information you need, from understanding the cancer itself, to choosing the right treatment, to finding support.

Secondary lung cancer is different from primary lung cancer. If you're not sure what the difference is or how it affects you, you can call our Cancer Nurseline on 1800 200 700.

What you should know about secondary lung cancer

  • Cancer that spreads to your lung from somewhere else in your body is called secondary lung cancer. Cancer that starts in your lung is called primary lung cancer.
  • The main symptoms of secondary lung cancer include difficulty breathing, a cough that will not go away, and chest pain.
  • Secondary lung cancer can be diagnosed by chest X-rays, a bronchoscopy and scans.
  • The main treatments for secondary lung cancer are radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

What are the lungs?

The lungs are two organs found in your chest and form part of your respiratory system. This system is responsible for your breathing. Your right lung is slightly bigger than your left and has three areas called lobes. Your left lung has two lobes.

When you breathe in, air passes through your nose or mouth into your trachea (windpipe), which separates into two further tubes called bronchi. Each of these bronchi connects to a lung. The bronchi divide even further into much smaller tubes called bronchioles. Air passes through these bronchioles and into tiny air sacs called alveoli.
In the alveoli, oxygen is absorbed from inhaled air into your bloodstream and is sent around your body.

Oxygen is needed in every cell of your body for various activities. During these activities, the waste gas, carbon dioxide, is made. It passes back through the alveoli and leaves your body when you breathe out.

What is secondary lung cancer?

Cancer that starts in your lung is called primary lung cancer. But cancer that spreads to your lung from somewhere else in your body is called secondary lung cancer. The primary cancer is where the cancer started. For example, your breast, oesophagus or bowel. Cancerous tumours are made up of millions of cancer cells. Sometimes these cells break up and travel through your bloodstream or lymphatic system to other parts of your body. When these cells build up to form another tumour somewhere else in your body, it is called a secondary cancer or metastases.

What causes secondary lung cancer?

Secondary lung cancer is caused when cancer spreads from another part of your body to your lung.

How common is secondary lung cancer?

It is hard to say how common secondary lung cancer is. Some of the cancers known to spread to the lungs are:

Cancer publications

For booklets and factsheets, including information about cancer types, treatments, side-effects, emotional effects, financial information and more. Visit our publications section.