Lung cancer was a rare disease at the start of the 20th century, but exposure to new causative agents and an increasing lifespan have contributed to make lung cancer a pandemic of the 20th and 21st centuries. Lung cancer is the biggest cancer killer in Europe, accounting for approximately 20% of total cancer deaths. It remains the leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide, with 1.38 million deaths in 2008 (376 000 in Europe alone). Even though an extensive list of risk factors has been well characterised, and lifestyle changes have occurred regarding tobacco consumption, particularly in men in western Europe, lung cancer remains a huge health problem. The relevant International Classification of Disease (ICD) codes (used to code and classify mortality data from death certificates) are ICD-10 C33 (neoplasm of the trachea) and ICD-10 C34 (neoplasm of bronchus and lung).
Unfortunately, lung cancer usually becomes manifest late in its natural history, so that curative treatment is not possible in up to 90% of cases. In Europe, the overall 5-year survival for men with lung cancer is only 11.2% and for women it is 13.9%. Research has aimed to identify patients with early-stage disease in the hope of improving survival and developing individualised therapies for patients with advanced disease. Prolonging survival and improving quality of life for patients presenting with inoperable lung cancer are also subjects of current research.