Lung cancer is an abnormal cancerous growth originating in the lung tissue. It is the most common cause of cancer death in Ireland and, in 2011, became the leading cause of cancer death in Irish women, overtaking breast cancer. The number of cases of lung cancer diagnosed in Ireland every year continues to rise, reflecting a large annual increase in the number of cases diagnosed in Irish women. This trend is expected to continue rising for the next decade.
Lung cancer is divided into two main types of cancer: small cell cancer and non-small cell cancer, which is more common. These are identified based on the appearance of the cells on a microscopic level.
Smoking is the most common risk factor for the development of lung cancer; other factors include radon, secondhand smoking, occupational exposure and genetic predisposition. There has been a significant increase in the number of lung cancers diagnosed in patients who have never smoked. These cancers tend to occur in older women and have unique characteristics.
The National Cancer Control Programme has reorganised the care of lung cancer patients in Ireland in recent years in order to facilitate the early and rapid diagnosis of patients with worrying symptoms. This allows patients who are early in the disease process to be referred for curative treatments such as surgery.
St. James’s Hospital has a long history in the treatment of lung cancer. It is the largest comprehensive centre for the diagnosis and treatment of the disease in Ireland, both in terms of the number of patients and the complexity of disease treated. St. James’s is one of eight National Rapid Access Centres for patients with symptoms of lung cancer, and it is one of four designated surgical centres for the treatment of lung cancer. Its surgeons perform just under half of all lung cancer operations in Ireland each year.
St. James’s Hospital has a long-established and dedicated Multi-Disciplinary Team for the treatment of lung cancer patients. The team’s weekly meeting is attended by various specialists involved in the diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer, who assess the needs of patients diagnosed in St. James’s and elsewhere, with live video links to Mullingar, Tullamore, Letterkenny, Limerick and Waterford. The cardiothoracic surgeons in St. James’s also attend Multi-Disciplinary Meetings in Beaumont and Tallaght Hospitals, bringing patients from those hospitals to St. James’s for surgical treatment if appropriate.