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Find out about the different types of lung cancer. The most common type is non small cell lung cancer.

The type of lung cancer you have tells you the type of cell that the cancer started in. Knowing this helps your doctor decide which treatment you need.

Cancer that starts in the lung is called primary lung cancer. If cancer spreads to your lungs from somewhere else in your body, this is secondary lung cancer.

There are different types of primary lung cancer and they are divided into 2 main groups:

  • small cell lung cancer (SCLC)
  • non small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)

Small cell lung cancer (SCLC)

About 12 out of every 100 lung cancers diagnosed are this type (12%). It is usually caused by smoking. These cancers tend to spread quite early on.

Non small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)

About 87 out of 100 lung cancers in the UK (87%) are non small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). There are three common types. They are grouped together because they behave in a similar way and respond to treatment in a similar way.

The three types are adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and large cell carcinoma.


This is the most common type and starts in the mucus making gland cells in the lining of your airways.

Squamous cell cancer

This type develops in the flat cells that cover the surface of your airways. It tends to grow near the centre of the lung.

Large cell carcinoma

The cancer cells appear large and round under the microscope.

Undifferentiated non small cell lung cancer

If your cancer cells look very undeveloped under the microscope, your doctor won’t be able to tell which type of NSCLC you have. Undeveloped cancer cells are called undifferentiated cancers. So your doctor might say you have undifferentiated NSCLC.

Other cancers affecting the lungs

Cancers in the top area of the lung are called pancoast tumours.

Other cancers can affect the lungs and they include mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer that starts in the covering of the lung (the pleura).

Some cancers can spread into the lung. This is called secondary lung cancer.

Information and help

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About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.