It’s easy to think that lung cancer is one disease, but the truth is that there are many different types of lung cancer— each of which is very important to understand as they affect both your treatment options and your prognosis. At Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers (RMCC), our goal is to provide you with all the information you need in order to feel more confident and in control regarding your diagnosis. 

Every Cancer is Unique

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.

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 major risk factor for developing small cell lung cancer.

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:

  1. Squamous cell carcinoma (epidermoid carcinoma)
  2. Large cell carcinoma
  3. Adenocarcinoma

Other less common types of non-small cell lung cancer are pleomorphic, carcinoid tumor, salivary gland carcinoma, and unclassified carcinoma.

Smoking can increase the risk of developing non-small cell lung cancer.

Other Types of Lung Tumors

Other types of tumors can occur in the lungs, including:

  • Lung carcinoids 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.