Types of Lung Cancer: New Thinking You Need to Know

Lung cancer type informs treatment, so get educated.

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Dr. Abraham Chachoua, the Jay and Isabel Fine Professor of Oncology at NYU Langone Medical Center's Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Cancer Center, explains the different types of lung cancer.

In the past, lung cancer was considered to exist as two types of lung cancer: small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer. These two tumor types behave differently because they arise from different cell types. Before, treatment was decided based on the cell type and all patients with that cell type would be given the same treatment.

This categorization into two types has evolved throughout the years.  Today, the medical field recognizes subtypes of small cell lung cancer as well. These include adenocarcinoma, which is the dominant type, squamous cell carcinoma, and other types that are less common such as a mixed type of lung cancer. In this case, a combination of the two different kinds of treatments would be used.

80% of lung cancer cases are non-small cell and 20% are small cell. Because the types of cancer respond to different treatments, Dr. Chachoua is frequently asked if one of them is easier to treat than the other. In the case of non-small cancer, treatment usually involves surgery, but with small cell cancer, surgery doesn't play as much of a dominant role.

The bottom line is, there have been tremendous advancements in lung cancer treatments, but mainly for non-small cell cancer.  However, all types of lung cancer are treatable but treatment is very different for one type of cancer than for the other.