Types of lung cancer
There are 2 main types of lung cancer and they are treated very differently.
Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)
About 80% to 85% of lung cancers are NSCLC. The main subtypes of NSCLC are adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and large cell carcinoma. These subtypes, which start from different types of lung cells are grouped together as NSCLC because their treatment and prognoses (outlook) are often similar.
Adenocarcinoma: Adenocarcinomas start in the cells that would normally secrete substances such as mucus.
This type of lung cancer occurs mainly in current or former smokers, but it is also the most common type of lung cancer seen in non-smokers. It is more common in women than in men, and it is more likely to occur in younger people than other types of lung cancer.
Adenocarcinoma is usually found in the outer parts of the lung and is more likely to be found before it has spread.
People with a type of adenocarcinoma called adenocarcinoma in situ (previously called bronchioloalveolar carcinoma) tend to have a better outlook than those with other types of lung cancer.
Squamous cell carcinoma: Squamous cell carcinomas start in squamous cells, which are flat cells that line the inside of the airways in the lungs. They are often linked to a history of smoking and tend to be found in the central part of the lungs, near a main airway (bronchus).
Large cell (undifferentiated) carcinoma: Large cell carcinoma can appear in any part of the lung. It tends to grow and spread quickly, which can make it harder to treat. A subtype of large cell carcinoma, known as large cell neuroendocrine carcinoma, is a fast-growing cancer that is very similar to small cell lung cancer.
Other subtypes: A few other subtypes of NSCLC, such as adenosquamous carcinoma and sarcomatoid carcinoma, are much less common.
Small cell lung cancer (SCLC)
About 10% to 15% of all lung cancers are SCLC and it is sometimes called oat cell cancer.
This type of lung cancer tends to grow and spread faster than NSCLC. About 70% of people with SCLC will have cancer that has already spread at the time they are diagnosed. Since this cancer grows quickly, it tends to respond well to chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Unfortunately, for most people, the cancer will return at some point.
Other types of lung tumors
Along with the main types of lung cancer, other tumors can occur in the lungs.
Lung carcinoid tumors: Carcinoid tumors of the lung account for fewer than 5% of lung tumors. Most of these grow slowly. For more information about these tumors, see Lung Carcinoid Tumor.
Other lung tumors: Other types of lung cancer such as adenoid cystic carcinomas, lymphomas, and sarcomas, as well as benign lung tumors such as hamartomas are rare. These are treated differently from the more common lung cancers and are not discussed here.