Types of Lung Cancer

The two most common types of lung cancer are small cell lung cancer (SCLC) and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Lung carcinoid tumors account for the rarest and third type of lung cancer. Mesothelioma — another cancer that often forms in the lung lining — is sometimes mistaken for a type of lung cancer. Learn about the types of lung cancer and see how you can pursue medical care and financial compensation.

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How Many Types of Lung Cancer Are There?

According to the National Cancer Institute, there are two main types of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC).

Closeup of lung cancer cells under a microscope

  • Non-small cell lung cancer: NSCLC is the most common type of lung cancer and is often easier to treat than SCLC. More than 8 out of 10 lung cancer patients will have NSCLC.
  • Small cell lung cancer: SCLC accounts for less than 2 out of 10 lung cancer cases. This type is very aggressive and most patients are diagnosed only after the cancer has spread.

Lung carcinoid tumors account for the third and least common type of lung cancer. Between 1 and 2 out of 100 lung cancer cases diagnosed each year fall under this type, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Oncologists (cancer doctors) determine which type of lung cancer a patient has by taking a biopsy (sample of fluid or tissue) and looking at it under a microscope. The Cleveland Clinic notes that NSCLC cells are bigger than SCLC ones.

Besides the three types of lung cancer, there are other cancers that attack the lungs but are not considered lung cancer. For example, mesothelioma (an asbestos-caused cancer) often develops in the lung lining first before spreading into the lungs and other parts of the body.

Thankfully, you may be able to pursue compensation if you or a loved one was diagnosed with lung cancer or other asbestos-related illnesses. Get a free case review right now to find out your eligibility.

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Types of Lung Cancer and Asbestos Exposure

There are many potential causes for various types of lung cancer, including cigarette smoking, radon, and asbestos exposure.

Asbestos can cause any type of lung cancer 10 to 50 years after a person is exposed. Asbestos-related lung cancer kills 9,000 to 11,000 people each year.

Sadly, many of these cases could have been avoided since manufacturers of asbestos-containing products knew the deadly risks but hid them. Those with asbestos-related diseases (like lung cancer or mesothelioma) may qualify for financial aid from these manufacturers.

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC)

NSCLC is the most common type of lung cancer, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). Between 80% and 85% of all lung cancer patients have NSCLC.

NSCLC tumors typically first appear in the linings of airways, including the alveoli (air sacs where oxygen enters the body and carbon dioxide leaves), bronchi (the main tubes that bring air from the trachea into the lungs), and bronchioles (tiny branches of the bronchi that lead to the alveoli). NSCLC spreads at a slower rate than SCLC.

There are also several different subtypes of NSCLC. Lung cancer specialists identify subtypes by looking at which cells are present in a patient’s tumor using a biopsy (examination of a tumor sample under a microscope).

Subtypes of NSCLC include:

  • Adenocarcinoma: The most common type of NSCLC, accounting for 40% of all cases, is also the slowest to spread. Adenocarcinoma typically starts in the bronchioles.
  • Adenosquamous carcinoma: This subtype occurs when a tumor has elements of both adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. This subtype makes up 0.4% and 4% of lung cancer cases.
  • Large cell carcinoma: This subtype is also known as large cell lung cancer and accounts for less than 3% of cases. Patients are diagnosed with this type if they have NSCLC that isn’t easily classified into one of the other subtypes.
  • Sarcomatoid carcinoma: This very rare subtype accounts for 0.1% to 0.4% of cases, according to a report from Therapeutic Advances in Medical Oncology. Sarcomatoid carcinoma is very aggressive, spreading quickly and responding poorly to treatment.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma: This subtype makes up 25% to 30% of all cases. Squamous cell carcinoma forms in the bronchi.
  • Large cell neuroendocrine carcinoma (LCNEC): These tumors have elements of both NSCLC and SCLC tumors. LCNEC tumors are aggressive and very rare. The World Health Organization (WHO) considers LCNEC to be a subtype of large cell carcinoma.

You may be able to pursue financial aid if you were diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer. Call (877) 446-5767 now to learn more.

Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC)

SCLC is the second-most common type of lung cancer, but it’s much less common than NSCLC. The ACS notes that 10% to 15% of lung cancer cases are SCLC. It is also known as oat cell cancer given the shape of the cancer cells.

According to Yale Medicine, SCLC typically starts in the lung’s airways and is much more aggressive when compared to NSCLC. In fact, 6 out of 10 SCLC patients will be diagnosed only after cancer metastasis (spread) has begun.

The Mayo Clinic notes that there are two subtypes of SCLC: small cell carcinoma and combined small cell carcinoma.

  • Small cell carcinoma is when a cancer tumor is made up of just SCLC cells.
  • Combined small cell carcinoma is when a patient’s cancer is made up of small cells and cells from an NSCLC subtype (like adenocarcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma).

Rare Lung Cancer Types and Lung-Related Cancers

A doctors hold up a chest X-ray to the lightBesides NSCLC and SCLC, lung carcinoid tumors account for the third and rarest type of lung cancer. Further, there are other subtypes of lung cancer (like Pancoast tumors) that aren’t defined by the type of cells that make up the tumors.

Learn about rare lung cancer types and notable lung-related cancers below.

Lung Carcinoid Tumors

Lung carcinoid tumors form when neuroendocrine cells (which help with air and blood flow in the lungs) become cancerous. Lung carcinoid tumors are the least common type of lung cancer, making up between 1% and 2% of cases diagnosed each year.

There are two subtypes of lung carcinoid tumors:

  • Atypical carcinoids: These are the rarest subtype. Atypical carcinoids are very aggressive and are more likely to metastasize, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
  • Typical carcinoids: 90% of lung carcinoid patients will have this subtype. These tumors don’t grow as quickly as atypical carcinoids. The Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center notes that typical carcinoid tumors can block the airways.

Further, lung carcinoid tumors are sometimes classified based on where they develop in the body, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).

Most lung carcinoid tumors develop in the bronchi, according to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and these are called central carcinoids. Carcinoid tumors can sometimes form in the bronchioles as well, and these tumors are known as peripheral carcinoids.

Though lung carcinoid tumors are rare, you may qualify for compensation if you’ve been diagnosed. Take action now with a free case review.

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Pancoast Lung Tumors

Pancoast tumors develop in the apex (top part) of the lung, causing pain in the ribs, neck, or other nearby areas. Pancoast lung tumors are mainly found in cases of NSCLC but can sometimes appear in cases of SCLC too.


Mesothelioma is technically not a type of lung cancer. It is a cancer that develops in the linings of major organs after asbestos exposure. Most cases of mesothelioma affect the lining of the lungs (pleura). For this reason, mesothelioma is sometimes wrongly referred to as a lung cancer.

The only known cause of mesothelioma is asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma is very aggressive but both medical care and financial aid may be available for those diagnosed.

Treatments for Types of Lung Cancer

A radiation machineTreatment options vary depending on which type of lung cancer a patient has. Doctors at top cancer centers will look at the cancer type, stage, and other factors to come up with a treatment plan that best suits the patient’s needs.

Learn about the different types of lung cancer treatments below.

Types of Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Treatments

Doctors can use five different treatments for NSCLC, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).

NSCLC treatments include:

  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is cancer-killing medication given to the patient in several doses over a certain span of time (cycles).
  • Immunotherapy: This is a type of treatment that improves the body’s natural immune response so it can better fight lung cancer.
  • Radiation therapy: Radiation allows doctors to use high-powered energy beams to shrink tumors and kill lung cancer cells. For some types of radiation, doctors can use CT scans or X-rays to map out where the radiation will be directed to limit possible side effects.
  • Surgery: Thoracic surgeons can remove cancerous lung tissue and tumors from the body with surgery. They may remove part or all of the lung closest to the cancerous tumors.
  • Targeted therapy: This is any type of medication that attacks specific elements of lung cancer cells (such as their proteins or genes) to destroy them.

Which treatments will work best depend on the patient’s lung cancer stage, overall health, and other factors.

Types of Small Cell Lung Cancer Treatments

Treatment for SCLC depends on the stage of lung cancer a patient has. Most patients will be treated with chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and/or radiation, but some patients diagnosed in the early stages may qualify for surgery.

Types of Treatments for Lung Carcinoid Tumors

Doctors may try to use minimally invasive surgery for typical carcinoids that haven’t spread beyond the lungs.

If a patient has atypical carcinoids, doctors will often remove the lung closest to the tumors and then treat the surgery site with chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy.

Besides the various treatments listed above, lung cancer patients may also qualify to join clinical trials that test new treatments for all lung cancer types. Clinical trials may help a patient live longer if the treatments in standard lung cancer care plans aren’t effective.

Resources for Lung Cancer Patients

Getting diagnosed with any type of lung cancer can be scary and stressful — emotionally, physically, and financially. While there’s no turning back after a lung cancer diagnosis, you can take action to afford your medical bills and protect your family’s future.

Lung Cancer Group is prepared to help you and your family find peace of mind. Get a free case review now to pursue financial aid for lung cancer. Patients with any and all types of lung cancer may qualify. You may also qualify if you have other asbestos-related lung conditions like mesothelioma or asbestosis.

FAQs on Types of Lung Cancer Tumors

What are the three types of lung cancer?

The three types of lung cancer are non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), small cell lung cancer (SCLC), and lung carcinoid tumors. There are also many different subtypes of lung cancer.

Any type of lung cancer can be caused by asbestos exposure. If you breathe in asbestos fibers, they can get stuck in the lungs and harm healthy tissue for decades. Irritation from the asbestos fibers can cause lung cancer tumors to form 10-50 years after exposure.

Besides lung cancer, asbestos exposure can also lead to other cancers like mesothelioma and non-cancerous (but still deadly) illnesses like asbestosis.

Get help if you developed lung cancer or another asbestos-related disease by calling (877) 446-5767 right now.

Smoking can cause any type of lung cancer. The NCI notes that smoking is “the major risk factor” for both NSCLC and SCLC.

Those who smoked early on in life for long periods of time are at the highest risk. Those exposed to secondhand smoke are also at a higher risk.

The most common type of lung cancer is non-small cell lung cancer, which makes up 80% to 85% of all lung cancer cases.

The other types of lung cancer are much less common. Small cell lung cancer accounts for 10% to 15% of lung cancer cases. Lung carcinoids make up between 1% and 2% of cases.

Generally speaking, non-small cell lung cancer has the best prognosis of all lung cancer types. NSCLC tumors often spread less quickly than small cell tumors, which makes them easier to treat.

Further, there are more treatment options available for NSCLC than SCLC or lung carcinoid tumors.

That said, all types of lung cancer can be deadly without prompt treatment. Factors like when a patient is diagnosed, their type and subtype, and how far the lung cancer has spread can all impact their prognosis (health outlook).

Lung Cancer Group was established by a team of caring advocates so those with lung cancer and other asbestos-related diseases can get the help they deserve. Our site provides the most accurate and up-to-date information about lung cancer, its link to asbestos, and financial compensation available to patients. Contact us to learn more and get assistance.

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