Types of Lung Cancer

There are a number of different types of lung cancer. The two most common are called:

  • Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), which is the most common type (around 75% of cases)
  • Small cell lung cancer (SCLC)

These two types of lung cancer respond differently to different treatments, so the best treatment approach for you will depend on your type of lung cancer.

Non-small cell lung cancer

There are several different types of non-small cell lung cancer depending on the type of abnormal cell:

  • Adenocarcinoma – is more common in women, particularly women smokers, and has a tendency to produce clumps of mucus/sputum in the smaller airways.
  • Squamous carcinoma (also known as epidermoid carcinoma) – occurs most frequently in men and older people of both sexes but it is rare in non-smokers. It appears as an irregular growth of pearl-like cells with a firm texture and is more common in the larger central airways than in the outer lung. It may grow large enough to block the air travelling to a part of the lung causing it to collapse. This type of lung cancer is the most commonly removed by surgery.

Small Cell Lung Cancer

This is caused by small round cells that form fleshy lumps, usually in the larger airways and is very rare in non-smokers. This type of lung cancer cell divides and grows very quickly and has often spread to the lymph nodes and/or other organs in the body by the time it is diagnosed.

It is known to be more responsive to chemotherapy and radiotherapy than non-small cell lung cancers and may reoccur. You will attend regular check-ups after treatment is complete to ensure any reoccurrence is spotted quickly.

Other types of lung cancer

  • Mesothelioma – is closely associated with a history of asbestos exposure usually either through working directly in the asbestos industry or working with asbestos products in the building trade. Generally, it affects older males and may take 35-40 years from the date of first exposure for the cancer to develop. This cancer cell type is usually found in the lining of the lungs and has a habit of producing fluid that may require draining from time to time to improve breathing.
  • Carcinoid tumour – is a rare and benign tumour disease of the lung (1-2% of all lung cancers) This lung growth affects the organs and glands which produce many of the hormones (neuroendocrine) e.g. thyroid gland. It is more common in a younger age group and the majority of patients have no symptoms at diagnosis, however when symptoms do occur they can include flushing, diarrhoea, heart problems and wheezing. Surgery is usually curative but radiotherapy and chemotherapy can be used for controlling symptoms.

The diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer can be complicated.

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Staging

To determine the most appropriate treatment, cancers are ‘staged,’ which means classifying the severity of a patient’s disease.


Stages of small cell lung cancer

Small cell lung cancer has two stages

  • Limited stage - usually means the cancer is only in one lung
  • Extensive stage - when it has spread to other parts of the body

Stages of non-small cell lung cancer

Non-small cell lung cancer has four stages: one to four.

Stage 1A

  • The cancer is only in your lungs and is not in any of your lymph nodes and is less than 3cm across.

Stage 1B

  • The cancer is only in your lungs and is not in any of your lymph nodes and one of the following:
  • The cancer is larger than 3cm across.
  • The cancer is growing in the main airway of your lung or the inner covering of your lung.

The cancer has caused part of your lung to collapse.

Stage 2A

  • The cancer is less than 3cm but has spread to the lymph nodes closest to your affected lung.

Stage 2B

One of the following:

  • The cancer is larger than 3cm and there is cancer in the lymph nodes closest to your affected lung.
  • The cancer has grown to other areas close to your affected lung, such as chest wall.

Stage 3A

One of the following:

  • The cancer has spread to lymph nodes further away from your affected lung, but still on the same side of your chest.
  • There is cancer only in lymph nodes closest to your affected lung, but the cancer has spread to either your chest wall, or the middle of your chest.

Stage 3B

One of the following:

  • The cancer has spread to lymph nodes on the other side of your chest or to the nodes above either collarbone.
  • There is more than one tumour in your lung.
  • The tumour has grown into another main part of your chest.
  • There is fluid around your lungs that contains cancer cells.

Stage 4

  • The cancer has spread to another part of your body, for example your liver or bones.