Skip to content

    Lung Cancer Health Center

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    Types of Lung Cancer

    There are two main types of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer. Each looks different under a microscope and grows and spreads differently. But both types of lung cancer share the same staging system. Your doctor will consider the type and the stage of lung cancer in determining the possible options for treatment.

    Non-small cell lung cancer

    Non-small cell lung cancer is more common than small cell lung cancer. About 85% of all lung cancers are non-small cell cancer. It typically grows and spreads more slowly than small cell lung cancer.

    These include:

    • Adenocarcinoma. This type often begins near the outside surface of the lung and may vary both in size and how fast it grows. Adenocarcinoma is likely to spread to lymph nodes and other organs. This type is more common than other types of lung cancer in women, nonsmokers, and former smokers.
    • Squamous cell carcinoma, also called epidermoid carcinoma. This type usually begins in one of the larger airway tubes (bronchi), typically grows more slowly than the other types of non-small cell cancer, and may vary in size from very small to very large. Squamous cell carcinoma may spread to nearby lymph nodes or to other organs.
    • Large cell carcinoma. This type often begins near the surface of the lung and usually is large when diagnosed. Large cell carcinoma is likely to spread to lymph nodes and other organs.

    Small cell lung cancer

    Small cell lung cancer is less common than non-small cell lung cancer. About 15% of lung cancers are small cell. This type of cancer grows very rapidly and in most people has already spread to other organs in the body by the time it is diagnosed.

    Small cell lung cancer is divided into two categories:

    • Limited disease, where the tumor is only in one lung, in the tissues between the lungs, and in nearby lymph nodes.
    • Extensive disease, which means the tumor has spread beyond the lung and nearby lymph nodes, or pleural effusion is present.

    ByHealthwise Staff
    Primary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
    Specialist Medical ReviewerMichael Seth Rabin, MD - Medical Oncology

    Current as ofNovember 14, 2014

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: November 14, 2014
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

    Today on WebMD

    Xray analysis
    Do you know the myths from the facts?
    chest x-ray
    Get to know them.
     
    woman taking pills
    Tips to managing them.
    Lung cancer xray
    See it in pictures, plus read the facts.
     
    Lung Cancer Risks Myths and Facts
    SLIDESHOW
    Woman getting ct scan
    Article
     
    Improving Lung Cancer Survival Targeted Therapy
    VIDEO
    cancer fighting foods
    Article
     
    Lung Cancer Surprising Differences Between Sexes
    VIDEO
    Pets Improve Your Health
    SLIDESHOW
     
    Vitamin D
    SLIDESHOW
    Lung Cancer Surgery Options
    VIDEO