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Cancer Treatment Centers of America

What are the types of lung cancer?

Answered by: Daniel Nader, DO, FCCP, FACP
Chief of Staff

Dr. Nader explains the two major types of lung cancer called small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer. He describes how pathologists test the characteristics of cancer cells to identify specific cancer types. 

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Daniel A. Nader: Unfortunately, there are over 170,000 new cases of lung cancer per year in the United States. And to put this in a little perspective, if a 747 Aircraft were to crash every day of the year that would account for the same number of deaths that are caused by lung cancer. There are two major types of lung cancer. There’s small cell lung cancer, which is about 30% of all the lung cancers that we see at Cancer Treatment Centers of America. This has very specific treatment and therefore very precise diagnosis needs to be made so the patient can get the most accurate treatment for that type of disease. Then there’s a broader category called non-small cell lung cancer, and in non-small cell lung cancer there are other very specific subtypes. These include squamous-cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma, and large-cell carcinoma. The specific types of non-small cell lung cancer refer to how these cells look under the microscope. Our pathologists do a terrific job, and when they identify cancer cells it’s not enough to just identify cancer cells, they do special staining of the material to identify whether this is an adenocarcinoma, squamous-cell carcinoma, or large cell carcinoma. And these cells each have particular characteristics that allow the pathologists to identify the specific type of cancer that it is. But knowing the specific type of non-small cell lung cancer is very important to our medical oncologists and radiation oncologists in terms of developing the treatment plan that’s going to be specific for the individual patient.