Lung Cancer in Men

Man talking with his doctor

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Just as men and women differ in ways from body build to clothes preference, lung cancer in men differs from lung cancer in women in many ways. We have known for a long time that the survival rate for men with lung cancer is lower than it is for women. On the other hand, the good news is the death rate for lung cancer in men (unlike women) has been dropping in recent years.


Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in men, both in the United States and worldwide. In 2006, the last year for which we have statistics available, there were 106,374 men diagnosed with lung cancer in the U.S., and 89,243 men died from the disease.

Unlike lung cancer in women which now appears to be stabilizing after increasing for many years, the rate of lung cancer in men has been decreasing. From 1994 to 2006, death rates from men with lung cancer dropped by 2% per year.

The average age at which lung cancer is diagnosed in men is somewhat older than that of women at age 71. The lifetime risk of a man developing lung cancer (smokers and non-smokers combined) is 1 in 13.

Symptoms and Signs

Just as men tend to have more “typical” symptoms of a heart attack, they are also more likely to have symptoms and signs associated with lung cancer. The types of lung cancer that are more common in men often grow near the central airways of the lungs. Because of this a persistent cough, coughing up blood, wheezing, and repeated infections due to airway obstruction (such as pneumonia) may be more common.

A unique set of symptoms called paraneoplastic syndrome is also more common in the types of lung cancer found in men. These symptoms may include weakness in the upper limbs, muscle cramps, and loss of coordination among others.


Occupational exposures account for a significant percentage of lung cancers in men, and in some studies is considered to be responsible for 13 to 29% of cases. Common occupations linked with an increased risk of developing lung cancer include metal workers, painters, cleaners, bakers, plumbers and pipe fitters, welders, freight handlers, and construction workers.

While smoking is considered the cause of roughly 80% of lung cancers in women, close to 90% of lung cancers in men are related to smoking. It is important to note that many men that develop lung cancer do not currently smoke. In fact, roughly half of the men currently living with lung cancer were former smokers at the time of their diagnosis.

Common Types

There are two primary types of lung cancer, non-small cell lung cancers and small cell lung cancers.

Non-small cell lung cancers are in turn broken down into three types that account for about 80% of lung cancers. Of these, squamous cell lung cancers and large cell lung cancers, cancers that grow near the central airways in the lung, are more common in men. In contrast, lung adenocarcinomas, cancers that grow near the outer regions of the lung, are more commonly found in women.

Small cell lung cancers are more commonly found in men. These cancers also tend to grow in the central areas of the lung and spread early on, often to the brain.


Men and women tend to respond in a similar way to many of the traditional chemotherapy medications for lung cancer. Some of the newer targeted therapies may be more effective in women, especially in younger women who have never smoked.


The survival rate for lung cancer in men is lower than that for women at all stages of the disease. Sadly, the overall 5-year survival rate is only around 16 percent. Yet, it's important to realize that survival rates are statistics that tell us how someone did with lung cancer treatment in the past. Many new treatments for lung cancer have been approved in just the last few years, and statistics do not take into account these newer treatments.

Coping and Support

Due to the stigma of lung cancer, both men and women have sometimes felt less compassion than do people with other forms of cancer. On top of this, men may be less likely to seek out emotional support. Many excellent lung cancer support groups and online support communities are available to help men connect and support each other in their journey's with lung cancer.


Quitting smoking is by far the most important thing anyone can do to lower their risk of developing lung cancer. That said, since the majority of people who develop lung cancer do not smoke⁠—they are either former smokers or never smoked⁠—it is important to look at other ways risk can be lowered as well.

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