Skip to content

Lung Cancer Health Center

Select An Article

Types of Lung Cancer

Font Size

What are the types of lung cancer?

Lung cancers, also known as bronchogenic carcinomas ("carcinoma" is another term for cancer), are broadly classified into two types: small cell lung cancers (SCLC) and non-small cell lung cancers (NSCLC). This classification is based upon the microscopic appearance of the tumor cells. These two types of cancers grow, spread, and are treated in different ways, so a distinction between these two types is important.

SCLC comprises about 10%-15% of lung cancers. This type of lung cancer is the most aggressive and rapidly growing of all the types. SCLC is strongly related to cigarette smoking with only 1% of these tumors occurring in non-smokers. SCLCs metastasize rapidly to many sites within the body and are most often discovered after they have spread extensively. 

Recommended Related to Lung Cancer

Understanding Lung Cancer -- the Basics

Although lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. in both men and women, it is also one of the most preventable kinds of cancer. At least four out of five cases are associated with cigarette smoking, and the cause-and-effect relationship has been extensively documented. During the 1920s, large numbers of men began to smoke cigarettes, presumably in response to increased advertising. Twenty years later, the frequency of lung cancer in men climbed sharply. In the 1940s, significantly...

Read the Understanding Lung Cancer -- the Basics article > >

NSCLC is the most common lung cancer, accounting for about 85%-90% of all cases. NSCLC has three main types designated by the type of cells found in the tumor. They are:

  • Adenocarcinomas are the most common type of NSCLC in the U.S. and comprise up to 40% of NSCLC cases. While adenocarcinomas are associated with smoking like other lung cancers, this type is also seen in non-smokers -- especially women -- who develop lung cancer. Most adenocarcinomas arise in the outer, or peripheral, areas of the lungs. They also have a tendency to spread to the lymph nodes and beyond. Bronchioloalveolar carcinoma is a subtype of adenocarcinoma that frequently develops at multiple sites in the lungs and spreads along the preexisting alveolar walls. It may also look like pneumonia on a chest X-ray. It is increasing in frequency and is very common in non-smoking women and in the Asian population.
  • Squamous cell carcinomas were formerly more common than adenocarcinomas; at present they account for about about 25% of NSCLC cases. Also known as epidermoid carcinomas, squamous cell cancers arise most frequently in the central chest area in the bronchi. This type of lung cancer most often stays within the lung, spreads to lymph nodes, and grows quite large, forming a cavity.
  • Large cell carcinomas, sometimes referred to as undifferentiated carcinomas, are the least common type of NSCLC, accounting for 10%-15% of all lung cancers. This type of cancer has a high tendency to spread to the lymph nodes and distant sites.

Next Article:

Today on WebMD

Broken cigarette
Do you know the myths from the facts?
man with a doctor
Our health check will steer you in the right direction.
 
sauteed cherry tomatoes
Fight cancer one plate at a time.
Lung cancer xray
See it in pictures, plus read the facts.
 
15 Cancer Symptoms Men Ignore
FEATURE
Lung Cancer Risks Myths and Facts
SLIDESHOW
 
cancer fighting foods
SLIDESHOW
Improving Lung Cancer Survival Targeted Therapy
VIDEO
 
Lung Cancer Surprising Differences Between Sexes
VIDEO
Pets Improve Your Health
SLIDESHOW
 
Vitamin D
SLIDESHOW
Lung Cancer Surgery Options
VIDEO
 

WebMD Special Sections