A Closer Look at the Different Types of Lung Cancer

A Closer Look at the Different Types of Lung Cancer

About a quarter of a million Americans are diagnosed with lung cancer each year, making it the nation’s third most common cancer for both women and men. 

Most of those diagnoses are for one of two common types of lung cancer: small cell lung cancer (SCLC) and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), named for the differences in the sizes of the cancer cells.

Although lung cancers share some similar characteristics, there are differences among them. 

As a top-ranked thoracic and vascular practice in New York and New Jersey, Rockland Thoracic & Vascular Associates helps patients understand the differences between these two common types of lung cancer and other less common types. 

Small cell lung cancer

Small cell lung cancer accounts for about 13% of all lung cancer cases in the United States. Although it’s much less common than non-small cell lung cancer, it’s also much more aggressive. 

Nearly all cases of SCLC are due to smoking, although you can develop this cancer if you don’t smoke.

There are two types of SCLC: small cell carcinoma (sometimes called oat cell cancer for its appearance) and combined small cell carcinoma, which is less common. 

Because SCLC spreads more quickly, it’s usually treated with chemotherapy with or without radiation therapy to destroy cancer cells throughout the body.

Non-small cell lung cancer

NSCLC accounts for about 84% of all lung cancers. This type of cancer spreads more slowly, so we may recommend surgery to remove the tumor if it hasn’t spread outside the lung. 

We often use chemotherapy and radiation therapy following surgery for more advanced stages of the disease and before surgery to help shrink the tumor before we remove it.

There are three main types of NSLC: adenocarcinoma, large cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma. Of these, adenocarcinoma is the most common, and it’s also the most common type of lung cancer in people who have never smoked.

Uncommon cancers

In addition to the cancers above, there are other cancers that are uncommon or rare. Many of these tumors don’t originate in the lungs, but spread there from cancers in other organs or tissues. 

Also called superior sulcus tumors, Pancoast tumors form in the upper part of the lung. We can treat these tumors surgically or with radiation or chemotherapy, depending on their size, stage, and other factors. 

Carcinoid tumors are a rare, slow-growing type of tumor that we usually treat surgically.

Mesothelioma is a rare lung cancer most commonly associated with exposure to asbestos, a once-common material in construction and industrial applications. It grows very slowly over many years.

Other uncommon cancers can form in the chest wall or the mediastinum, the space between the lungs. These tumors may be benign or malignant, and their treatment depends on their position and other factors.

Lung cancer symptoms

Most lung cancers cause similar symptoms, including:

As the cancer progresses, it can cause other symptoms, including:

Knowing these symptoms can play a key role in early cancer detection and also in identifying other lung-related problems, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Don’t ignore your symptoms

If you have any of the symptoms listed above, see us for a medical evaluation to rule out cancer or identify it in its earliest stage. Evaluation is also important for anyone with risk factors for lung cancer, including a history of smoking, exposure to airborne toxins, or a family history of the disease.

To schedule your lung evaluation at one of our locations in Pomona, Goshen, Fishkill, and the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, New York, or Englewood, New Jersey, book an appointment online or over the phone with our team today.

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