Types of Lung Cancer
It’s easy to think about lung cancer as one disease but the truth is that there are several different types of lung cancer — each of which is treated differently. That's why it's important to understand the type you have and how that impacts your treatments and prognosis. At Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers (RMCC), our goal is to provide you with the information you need to feel more confident in your selection of a lung cancer specialist and treatment decisions.
Two Primary Types of Lung Cancer
Lung cancers are broadly classified into two types — small cell lung cancers (SCLC) and non-small cell lung cancers (NSCLC) — which are then broken down into a specific subtype. Both small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer are named for the kinds of cells found in the cancer and how the cells appear when viewed under a microscope. The cancer cells of each type grow and spread in different ways.
Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer
NSCLC is the most common type of lung cancer in the United States, accounting for about 80% to 85% of lung cancers. There are three main types of non-small cell lung cancer, which include:
- Squamous cell carcinoma - more likely for smokers accounting for about half the cases of this type of lung cancer
- Large cell carcinoma
- Adenocarcinoma - more likely in non-smokers
Small Cell Lung Cancer
SCLC is a fast-growing cancer that accounts for about 10% to 15% of all lung cancers. It has two general types, which include:
- Small cell carcinoma (also known as oat cell cancer because of how it looks)
- Combined small cell carcinoma
Smoking tobacco is the #1 leading factor in developing small cell lung cancer.
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Other Types of Lung Tumors
Other types of cancerous tumors can occur in the lungs. They aren't typically treated as lung cancer simply because the tumor is in the lungs. These other types of tumors include:
- Lung carcinoid tumors. These tumors start in neuroendocrine cells, a special kind of cell found in the lungs. This type of cancer is often found in younger than average lung cancer patients.
- Mesothelioma. This is a rare type of cancer that develops in thin tissue called mesothelium, which lines the lungs and abdomen. This type of lung cancer is linked to asbestos exposure.
- Rare tumors like adenoid cystic carcinomas, sarcomas, lymphomas, and hamartomas (benign lung tumors).
- Cancers that spread to the lungs. Sometimes, cancer that starts in another organ can metastasize to the lungs. Keep in mind that cancers like this are not considered lung cancer— they are considered to be a cancer of the organ in which it originated and would be treated as such.
RMCC understands that the information surrounding the types of lung cancer can be a lot to process. Know that we are here to answer any questions you may have about lung cancer in general or your individual situation.