Types of Lung Cancer

The two main types of lung cancer are: small-cell lung cancer (SCLC) and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) represents approximately 85% to 90% of lung cancer diagnoses. There are three main types of NSCLC — adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and large cell carcinoma — all of which develop differently but are grouped together because the approaches to treatment and prognosis are often similar.

ADENOCARCINOMA

Adenocarcinoma is the most common subtype of NSCLC and accounts for 35% to 40% of all NSCLC. These types of tumors often develop at the edges of the lungs and in cells lining the airways. They grow at various rates and can be asymptomatic in the early stages. Adenocarcinoma is often linked to smoking but is also the most common lung cancer diagnosed in nonsmokers. Adenocarcinoma is more prevalent in women than in men.

SQUAMOUS CELL CARCINOMA

Squamous cell carcinoma accounts for about 30% of all NSCLC and is often linked to smoking. It is generally detected in the middle of the lungs and also grows at various rates.

LARGE CELL CARCINOMA

Large cell carcinoma accounts for 10% to 20% of all NSCLC. It can occur in any part of the lungs and spreads rapidly. Like adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, these tumors are often associated with smoking.

There are also other, less common sub-types of NSCLC.

If you have NSCLC, it is important to know your subtype so that your medical team can develop the right treatment plan for you. The majority of lung cancers (about eight out of 10) are NSCLC, and most cases of NSCLC (about five out of 10) are adenocarcinoma.

Symptoms of NSCLC

Lung cancer symptoms may be similar to those caused by many different conditions. If you have any of the symptoms listed below, discuss them with your doctor right away:

  • Chest discomfort or pain
  • Persistent coughing that worsens
  • Coughing up blood or rust-colored phlegm
  • Hoarseness and wheezing
  • Weight loss and lack of appetite
  • Recurrent infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia

Treatment of NSCLC

There are many treatment options for NSCLC, depending on the stage at which the cancer is diagnosed and the biological nature of the individual case. They include:

Small Cell Lung Cancer

Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) represents about 10% to 15% of diagnosed lung cancers and is usually associated with a history of smoking. It is named after the size of the cancer cells when viewed under a microscope. SCLC often starts in the bronchi and spreads to other areas of the body before it is located. Because SCLC can spread quickly, it is frequently treated with chemotherapy rather than surgery. Also, because small-cell lung cancers tend to grow and spread more rapidly and cause symptoms sooner than NSCLC. For these reasons, treatments for SCLC may differ from those for NSCLC.

Symptoms of SCLC

Lung cancer symptoms may be similar to those caused by many different conditions. If you have any of the symptoms below, discuss them with your doctor right away:

  • Chest discomfort or pain
  • Persistent coughing that worsens
  • Coughing up blood or rust-colored phlegm
  • Hoarseness and wheezing
  • Weight loss and lack of appetite
  • Recurrent infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia

Treatment of SCLC

There are several treatments for SCLC depending on the stage of cancer. They include:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Surgery, though it is rarely used for SCLC

Additional Information

For more information, visit the For Patients section of this site.

This information is not designed to be a substitute for medical advice provided by your treatment team.