What Are the Types of Lung Cancer?

There are multiple kinds of lung cancer. Determining what type of cancer is present is important, as it helps doctors know how the disease will grow and spread. With information on how advanced and aggressive a patient’s cancer is, they can develop a plan for how best to treat it.

At the highest level, lung cancer is classified as either small cell lung cancer (SCLC) or non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). This differentiation is made based on the appearance of the tumor cells when viewed under a microscope.

Most Common Types of Lung Cancer: Small Cell and Non-Small Cell

Small cell lung cancer is less common than large cell lung cancer. Approximately 10-15% of lung cancers are SCLC. This form is the more aggressive and faster-growing of the two types. SCLCs tend to spread to other parts of the body and frequently aren’t detected until many areas are affected by the disease.

NSCLC is the most common type of lung cancer. Roughly 80-85% of lung cancers fall into this group. NSCLC can be further categorized into three subtypes based on the type of cells contained in their tumors. Adenocarcinomas are the most common NSCLCs in the U.S., making up approximately 40% of lung cancer cases. Squamous cell carcinomas account for 25-30% of cases. Large cell carcinomas are the least common of the NSCLCs, at 10-15% of cases.

Lung cancer affects both genders. However, there are some unique considerations related to lung cancer in women.

Lung Cancer from Smoking

When it comes to lung cancer, smoking is one of the biggest risk factors. Doctors believe that cigarette smoke damages the cells that line the lungs, causing them to act abnormally and potentially develop cancer. People who smoke regularly are much more likely to develop the disease.

The effect of smoking varies by the different types of lung cancer. For example:

● SCLC, a very aggressive form of lung cancer, is closely tied to smoking.
● Adenocarcinomas are associated with smoking but are also found in non-smokers.
● Bronchial carcinoids, a rare form of lung cancer, aren’t related to smoking.

Even though smoking isn’t a factor in some forms of lung cancer, it’s best to quit smoking and decrease your risk of developing the disease.

Lung Cancer in Lymph Nodes

Some types of lung cancer tend to spread to the lymph nodes. For example, adenocarcinomas and large cell carcinomas commonly affect the lymph nodes, and squamous cell carcinomas can be found there as well. SCLCs can also travel to the lymph nodes.

If doctors detect lung cancer in the lymph nodes, they see it as a sign that the cancer is likely to spread to other parts of the body. In that case, more aggressive treatment methods may be used. This is done to reduce the risk of recurrence.

Rare Types of Lung Cancer

Other types of lung cancer can develop. However, they’re far less common than SCLC and NSCLC. These include:

● Bronchial carcinoids. This form is most commonly diagnosed in people under 40 years of age. It consists of small tumors that tend to grow and spread more slowly than other types of cancer.
● Cancers of other tissue. Cancer can occur in tissue like the smooth muscle that supports the lungs or blood vessels in the lungs.

Between them, these two rare lung cancers make up just 5-10% of cases.

Learn More About Lung Cancer from Baptist Health

Take a Health Risk Assessment (HRA) questionnaire to estimate your personal health risk and identify your risk factors for Lung Cancer.

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