Impact of lung disease

Seven million (almost one in three) Australians will be impacted by a lung condition, such as lung cancer, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), asthma or bronchiectasis [1]. Lung disease and lung cancer are Australia’s second leading cause of death and account for more than 10 percent of the total health burden [2]. Lung conditions can have a marked effect on people’s ability to enjoy life, be active and productive, and realise their full potential.

Impact on the individual

For many people the impact of lung disease or lung cancer can be devastating. Apart from physical health, the impact can be felt across many areas of their life, including: 

  • Mental health

    A lung disease or lung cancer diagnosis can have a significant impact not only physically, but emotionally and some people experience considerable mental health issues. Many people have difficulty participating in social activities and may experience anxious and depressive symptoms and disorders.  

    People living with COPD, for example, are 10-times more likely to experience panic disorders than the general population, and commonly experience panic attacks [3]. In Australia, 50 per cent of people living with lung cancer experience distress, anxiety and/or depression [3]. Research shows that mental health can have a significant impact on physical wellbeing and therefore worsen quality of life for people living with lung disease and lung cancer [4].   

    Currently, there are insufficient support services available to provide people with the care and support they need. Lung Foundation Australia offers a range of evidenced-based services, programs and resources to bridge this gap in care for Australians living with lung disease and lung cancer. In particular, our Peer Support program connect people living with lung disease and lung cancer to peers sharing a similar lived experience. Through sharing personal experiences, peer support can help to combat feelings of isolation and boost participants confidence and self-esteem. 

    Find out more

  • Employment

    Many people living with lung disease or lung cancer experience time away from school or work due to treatment or symptoms and side effects, and their condition may even affect their ability to stay in a job or traditional school setting [3]A lung condition can be physically debilitating which can make some jobs challenging. For people who have to undergo regular or ongoing treatment, the side effects can greatly impact their physical and emotional wellbeing, making it difficult to sustain regular employment. 

  • Finances

    There is a substantial financial burden for Australian families who are impacted by a lung condition. In 2008, it was estimated that the individual cost of living with COPD in Australia, including the value of loss of wellness, equalled $82,925 per person, per year [5]. The financial barrier of living with a lung condition can be significant roadblock for accessing treatment and care. 

    Through Lung Foundation Australia’s programs, support services and advocacy work with the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, we are working to reduce the financial burden on families and ensure every Australian impacted by lung disease or lung cancer has access to the treatment, care and support they need 

    Consumers are at the heart of our advocacy program. Our community stand with us in all advocacy activities: meeting political representatives, participating in campaigns and developing policy positions and submissions for consideration by state, territory and federal governments. To find out more about Lung Foundation Australia’s recent advocacy activities and how you can get involved, follow the link below.

    Find out more


1 in 3 Australians believe people living with lung cancer “only have themselves to blame” for their diagnosis [6]. But we’re changing the conversation.  

Lung disease and lung cancer are often misunderstood, and the stigma associated with these conditions has a devastating impact on access to treatment, support and care. Stigma can lead to a delay in people seeking advice from a healthcare professional. This leads to a delayed diagnosis which can lead to poorer outcomesStigma also has a distressing impact on the emotional wellbeing on people diagnosed. Nobody should have to go through a diagnosis alone, but many people living with lung disease and lung cancer are made to feel they got what they deserved, and many don’t even confide in their friends and family. 

The conversation is changing
A 2019 survey revealed the number of people who would first ask if someone recently diagnosed with lung cancer was a smoker has fallen from 40% to 27% - a sizeable reduction in perception from just two years of strong campaigning from Lung Foundation Australia [7]. We will continue campaigning until the conversation has shifted completely for lung cancer and lung disease.
“Lung cancer patients need the same investment in research and access to treatment and support as any other cancer. Seeing the positive changes being made through Lung Foundation Australia’s advocacy and awareness initiatives, and supporting these in any way I can, gives me hope for the future.” – Michel, lives with lung cancer.


Research offers hope, whether for a cure or for an improvement in quality of life.

Lung disease, including chronic respiratory conditions and lung cancer, affects millions of Australians. It is our nation’s second leading cause of death [8], yet dedicated research into lung disease is grossly underfunded in Australia.

The prevalence of lung disease and its impact on Australians is devastating. We can change this – through research. By improving our understanding about the disease, we can develop tests, treatments and interventions that will improve the diagnosis, outcomes and quality of life for the millions of people affected by lung disease.

“I dream of a world where there is equity in the way medical research is prioritised, where the journey is eased through new processes and support, where new discoveries and breakthroughs give people like me more valuable time with our loved ones.” – Bill Van Nierop, lives with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis.

Impact in Australia

Anyone can get lung disease. It affects men, women, children, smokers, ex-smokers and never smokers, all who are equally worthy of care and support.

The economic burden of lung disease and lung cancer is not solely the individuals to carry. It also impacts many areas including the healthcare system, workforce and broader economy. The economic burden of lung cancer alone for new patients diagnosed in 2018 is estimated to be $297.3 million in direct (treatment, travel and out of hospital costs) and indirect costs (absenteeism). It’s predicted, if left unaddressedthe economic burden of lung cancer in Australia could inflate to $6.6 billion by 2028 [9].  

Addressing the inequalities in funding is a priority to ultimately reduce the burden on the Australian healthcare system and economy.  

To find out more about the burden of lung disease and lung cancer in Australia, download the National Strategic Action Plan for Lung Conditions. 

Your Voice
The Your Voice Lung Health Advocacy Program is Australia’s only consumer led, nationally coordinated political advocacy program. Members of our Your Voice advocacy program receive ongoing training and support to engage in targeted campaign activities across our portfolio of activities in lung cancer and lung disease.


1 AIHW, Australia’s health 2016 (2016)
2 Australian Bureau of Statistics – Australia’s leading causes of death, (2016)
3 Lung Foundation Australia, National Strategic Action Plan for Lung Conditions (2019)
4 Mental Health Foundation, Physical health and mental health (2016)
5 Access Economics, Economic impact of COPD and cost effective solutions (2008)
6 Lung Foundation Australia, 2017 Lung Foundation Australia Annual Report (2018)
7 Lung Foundation Australia,  (2016), Improving outcomes for Australians with lung cancer: A Call to Action
8 Australian Bureau of Statistics – Australia’s leading causes of death (2016)
9 Lung Foundation Australia, Making Lung Cancer A Fair Fight: A Blueprint for Reform (2018)