Get informed about lung cancer

What is BreatheAir?

BreatheAir is a lung cancer awareness campaign that has two aims;

  1. To give people more information on lung cancer,
  2. To advocate – alongside other groups - for increased funding of lung cancer treatments for New Zealanders.

BreatheAir is a campaign run by Merck Sharp & Dohme (New Zealand) Ltd.

Lung cancer facts

There are some significant health inequities that exist in New Zealand2



number of new lung cancer diagnoses each year compared with non-Māori2


4x more

likely than non-Māori
women to die of lung cancer3


3x more

likely than non-Māori
men to die of lung cancer3

What is lung cancer?

With all types of cancer, abnormal cells in the body begin to divide in an uncontrolled way. These cells may spread into other tissues or cause a growth called a tumour. Most cancers start when a gene gets damaged and is changed (mutated). This can be caused by the natural aging process or exposure to cancer causing risk factors. Cancer can also be caused by faulty genes passed down through families.4

There are two main lung cancer types5

Anyone can get cancer, but there are things that increase the risk

Risk factors are things that might increase your chance of getting lung cancer. Some risk factors, like smoking, can be changed. Others, like a person’s age or family history, can’t be changed.6

Having a risk factor, or even several, does not mean that you will get the disease. Some people who get the disease may have few or no known risk factors.6

Some risk factors for lung cancer include:6



to second hand smoke


to asbestos and other cancer causing agents


from previous therapy to the lungs




A personal or family history of lung cancer

The most common symptoms of lung cancer are:6

Experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above does not mean that you have lung cancer, but it is still important that you talk to your doctor about them - and keep asking if your symptoms do not change.

Lung cancer detection

Lung cancer is often diagnosed late, as most lung cancers do not cause any symptoms until they have spread.6

In New Zealand, a large share of lung cancer diagnoses are made in an emergency department, and over 80% of the patients were found to have advanced (late stage) lung cancer.7

The survival rates for lung cancer are better if detected at an early stage, than if detected later.8

If you have any symptoms, do not delay getting checked.

Funding for more lung cancer treatments has been delayed

In April 2020, PHARMAC (the NZ government’s drug buying agency) put out a statement saying that due to the unknown costs of COVID-19 they would delay the planned buying of more lung cancer treatments.9

This statement was over a year ago, and we have not seen any further action that would suggest this process will restart again soon.
At MSD, we do not think this is fair to Kiwis with lung cancer or their families – they are being impacted by this delay.

The information on this website does not replace the advice of a health professional. If you have any questions about cancer or its signs and symptoms, it is best to discuss it with your doctor.


TAPS NA13116. Updated August 2021. INSIGHT 10900. NZ-NON-00078

Merck Sharp & Dohme (New Zealand) Limited. Level 3, 123 Carlton Gore Road, Newmarket, Auckland.

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