Lung Cancer Types

There are two main types of lung cancer and a number of smaller sub-types. Your physicians will look at a sample of your cancer cells under a microscope to determine which type of lung cancer you have. It’s important to receive an accurate diagnosis because each type requires a different treatment plan.

The two main types of lung cancer are:

  1. Non-small cell lung cancer: most lung cancers fall into this category.
  2. Small-cell lung cancer: about 10-15 percent of lung cancers fall into this category.

Non-small cell lung cancer

The most common form of lung cancer, non-small cell lung cancer is broken down into several different sub-types:


This cancer begins in the cells that line the lung’s air sacs (alveoli).  Most of the non-small cell lung cancers seen at Siteman belong to this type.

Squamous cell carcinoma

This cancer usually begins in the cells lining the airways. Squamous cells create linings, such as the inside of the mouth, and also form the outer layer of the skin. Healthy lungs typically don’t contain squamous cells, but smoking-related changes to the tissue can cause them to develop. Epidermoid carcinoma is another name for this type of cancer.

Other, less-common types of non-small cell lung cancer include:

  • Sarcomatoid lung cancer
  • Large cell neuroendocrine carcinoma
  • Carcinoid tumor
  • Salivary gland carcinoma
  • Unclassified carcinoma

Small cell lung cancer

Small cell lung cancer is less common than non-small cell lung cancer.

This type of lung cancer is usually aggressive and capable of spreading quickly. In many cases, it has already metastasized to other parts of the patient’s body by the time it is diagnosed. Patients with small-cell lung cancer can be treated with chemotherapy and/or radiation depending on how much the cancer has spread in their body.

Small cell lung cancer tends to develop in individuals who smoke or have smoked. To lower your risk, take action to quit.