November 8, 2013

Putting your lungs under the spotlight

Lung disease is often an unspoken issue in Australia with more than six million people living with a long-term, ongoing respiratory condition.

November is national lung health awareness month and serves as a time to remind people of the importance of good lung health.

Unlike conditions such as breast or skin cancer, research shows many Australians think people with a lung cancer have brought it on themselves by smoking.

But it is time to change these perceptions.

Throughout November there will be many events and activities designed to help people think about their lungs.

Lung disease doesn’t discriminate – it affects men and women, young and old, smokers, ex-smokers and people who have never smoked.

There are many different types of lung disease affecting millions of Australians.

In both men and women, lung cancer is the fourth most common cancer diagnosed and the most common cause of cancer-related death, more than breast, ovarian and prostate cancers combined.

The chronic lung disease COPD is more common than cancer, traffic accidents, heart disease or diabetes.

In fact, Australia has one of the highest rates of death from COPD in the developed world.

Lung Foundation Australia encourages everyone to take five minutes to do the Lung Foundation’s online lung health checklist <>.

Throughout November there will be lung health awareness activities taking place around the country including:

  • Awareness campaign/s in partnership with GPs, Medicare Locals and community pharmacy
  • Shine a light on lung cancer events
  • Mesothelioma awareness displays with morning tea
  • Catch Your Breath Community Walks
  • FREE lung screening in the community setting
  • Information stands in public places

For more information contact 1800 654 301, email or visit


Some key facts:

  • Lung disease is prolific and significant in Australia. This silent killer affects more than 2.6 million Australians and puts a large financial burden on our health system
  • Lung disease is not sexy. In fact, research shows Australians are amongst the most judgmental people in the world
  • Lung disease doesn’t discriminate. It affects men, women, children, smokers, non-smokers and never smokers
  • Lung Health Awareness Month is about encouraging all Australians to stop and think about their lung health
  • About 14% of all deaths each year in Australia are a result of lung disease
  • Around 8,000 Australians die from lung cancer each year – or about  20 people a day, every day of the year ((Males – 4715, Females – 2911)
  • Each year, lung disease causes nearly 350,000 hospitalisations in Australia. In fact, a lung disease called COPD which covers emphysema, chronic bronchitis and some chronic asthma  is the second leading cause of avoidable hospital admissions in Australia
  • COPD is a leading cause of death and disease burden after heart disease, stroke and cancer. In terms of economic burden of lung disease in Australia:
  • COPD is more costly overall per case than cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis or arthritis
  • In 2008, the total economic impact of COPD was estimated to be $98.2 billion of which $8.8 billion was attributed to financial costs and $89.4 billion to the loss of wellbeing
  • Upper respiratory tract infections account for 3-4 million visits to GPs each year (i.e.: six out of every 100 GP consultations) and cost more than $A150m in direct costs
  • The total annual health expenditure on lung cancer is about $136 million according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
  • Tobacco is the only drug which if used exactly as intended, will kill half the people who use it

Disease specific facts:

Lung Cancer

  • Lung Cancer is the fourth most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women.
  • Lung cancer is the biggest cause of death from cancer – more people die from lung cancer than breast, ovarian and prostate cancers combined
  • Around 10,000 Australians are diagnosed with Lung Cancer each year.  This figure is expected to rise by 40% by the year 2020
  • Lung cancer alone accounts for one in every five deaths due to cancer (19%)
  • Survival has increased over the last 26 years, but remains very low – only 13 out of 100 people with lung cancer survive five years beyond their diagnosis
  • Lung cancer remains one of the least funded cancers in the world

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

  • COPD is a progressive and irreversible lung condition that affects a person’s ability to breathe and can have a significant impact on their quality of life. Often referred to as ‘chronic bronchitis’ and ‘emphysema’, COPD is associated with the destruction of lung tissue and a narrowing of the airways
  • About 14.5% or one in seven Australians 40 years or older have some level of lung deterioration resulting in lung obstruction.  This percentage almost doubles in people 75 years or older.
  • About 2.1 million Australians have some form of COPD. By 2050, this figure is expected to more than double to 4.5 million Australians
  • COPD affects more people in any year than most common types of cancer, road traffic accidents, heart disease or diabetes
  • COPD is the second leading cause of avoidable hospitalisations in Australia.  (Their admission is costly with an average stay of 5–7 days)


  • About 10% of Australians (2 million people) have asthma
  • In 2009, there were 411 deaths caused by asthma

Interstitial Lung Disease (ILD)

  • Childhood interstitial lung disease is a broad term for a group of rare lung diseases that can affect babies, children, and teens. These diseases have some similar symptoms and also harm the lungs in similar ways
  • Currently, the number of children with interstitial lung disease is unknown. However, we do know about one third of children with interstitial lung disease die  

Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF)

  • Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is the most common of the idiopathic ILDs, although the reported incidence is variable, for example in Australia it ranges from 216 people aged 18-34 years to >2560 among those aged more than 75 years
  • IPF is a severe and progressive disorder, with a median survival from diagnosis of 3-5 years
  • No current pharmacologic therapy is known to improve survival or alter the progression of IPF despite multiple recent clinical trials
  • Little is known about the incidence or prevalence of IPF in Australia. As a rare lung disease no single Australian centre has an adequate patient population to facilitate robust research however the Australian IPF Registry, which is currently being developed, aims to address this