Small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer behave differently and as such they are treated differently. It is important to have as much information as possible about your individual lung cancer. To understand what type of lung cancer you have, samples of the tumour taken from a biopsy of tissue or fluid from your lungs will be tested by a pathologist.
Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer that can develop after exposure to asbestos. Mesothelioma usually targets the outer membrane of the lungs. Find out more about mesothelioma.
Non-small cell lung cancer
Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) accounts for approximately 80% of all lung cancers. There are several sub-types of NSCLC but the most commonly diagnosed are:
Adenocarcinoma (including bronchioloalveolar carcinoma)
Adenocarcinoma is the most common type of lung cancer in smokers and non-smokers, in men and women, regardless of their age. It comprises around 40% of all lung cancers. It is usually found near the edge of the lung. It can develop in the chest lining causing fluid to form in the chest cavity. This type of NSCLC tends to grow more slowly than other lung cancers and has a greater chance of being found before it has spread (or metastasized) to other body organs.
Squamous cell carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma comprises 25-30% of all lung cancers. It can develop in the mucous membrane that lines the bronchial tubes. Coughing up blood is a common sign of squamous cell NSCLC. This sub-type of NSCLC is strongly associated with smoking.
Large cell undifferentiated carcinoma
This is a rare sub-type of NSCLC accounting for approximately 5-10% of lung cancers. Large cell undifferentiated carcinoma often begins in the central part of the lungs. It is known to grow and spread quickly into nearby lymph nodes as well as other organs.
Other sub-types of NSCLC include adenosquamous carcinoma and sarcomatoid carcinoma. These are much less common than those mentioned above.
Knowing the subtype of NSCLC helps the healthcare team identify the best treatment options for you.
NSCLC is not the same in every person. Recently, the complexity of lung cancer has been identified through genome research. The different sub-types of NSCLC lung cancer can be grouped according to the type of DNA damage that causes the lung cancer. This type of genetic or molecular testing can help doctors identify if your lung cancer can be treated by medicines that target these DNA changes. Information about genetic testing in lung cancer will be provided soon.
NB: Information about other types of NSCLC such as Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR) mutations and Anaplastic Lymphoma Kinase (ALK) etc. will be added soon.
Small cell lung cancer
Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) accounts for around 15-20% of all lung cancers. Small cell lung cancer usually starts in the bronchi in the centre of the chest, although about 5% of the time it is found in the periphery of the lungs. Small cell lung cancer is a type of neuroendocrine tumour, which means that the neuroendocrine cells that form part of the lining of the airways experience uncontrolled growth and multiply.
Small cell lung cancer behaves very differently to non-small cell lung cancer. It is aggressive; it grows very quickly and spreads via the bloodstream to lymph nodes and other organs such as the brain early in the disease. It is quite common for tumour deposits to be found in other organs at the time of diagnosis. Due to the early spread of small cell lung cancer, surgery is generally not an option. Chemotherapy combined with radiotherapy is most commonly used as treatment.