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Your Profile, Your Goals - Types of Lung Cancer

Learn about the different types of lung cancer and what makes your lung cancer unique.

Video Transcript

Beth Sandy: There are two main types of lung cancer, small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer. It is also possible to have characteristics of both of these types. Most lung cancers, about 80% are non-small cell lung cancer. Small cell and non-small cell lung cancer are very different from one another in terms of outcomes and treatment approaches.

Dr. Anil Vachan: There are three distinct types of non-small cell lung cancer: squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma and large cell carcinoma. Carcinoma is another word for cancer. The cells in these subtypes differ in size, shape and chemical makeup when looked at under a microscope.

When I talk to my patients about which type of non-small cell lung cancer they may have, I tell them to consider the three subtypes as separate distinct disease that may have different treatment options.

Squamous cell carcinoma counts for about a quarter of the lung cancers I see in my practice. It is more typically seen in smokers and former smokers. Squamous cell lung cancer is an aggressive fast-growing form of lung cancer. Squamous cell carcinomas are usually found in the center of the lung next to an air tube.

Adenocarcinoma is the most common non-small cell lung cancer. It's often found in an outer area of the lung. It is also the most common type of lung cancer among people who have never smoked. Statistically, adenocarcinomas are more common in women and are more likely than other types of lung cancers to occur in younger patients.

Large cell carcinoma gets its name from the large round cells that are seen under the microscope at diagnosis. Large cell carcinomas are grouped together simply because they don't look or act like any other lung cancer types. These cancers are aggressive, fast growing and can occur in any part of the lung.

Small cell lung cancer occurs equally in men and women. It is called small cell because when viewed under a microscope, the lung cancer cells are smaller than normal cells. Almost all of my patients with small cell lung cancer have been smokers. If you are still smoking, it is important to quit. We now know that quitting smoking will lead to better results from your treatment.

Combined small cell lung carcinoma is a term used to describe cancers that have features of both small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer cells when observed under a microscope. There are other types of lung cancer that are not categorized as small cell or non-small cell. The most common of them are typical carcinoid tumor, and atypical carcinoid tumor. They are slower growing lung cancers compared with the other types of lung cancer. But as we now know, every diagnosis of lung cancer is unique. And just because the numbers show what has happened in the past, they certainly do not represent everyone.

Page last updated: March 22, 2020

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