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There are two main types of primary lung cancer, which behave and respond to treatment differently.
The two main types of lung cancer are:
About 15% of lung cancers (less than 1 in 5) are small cell; the rest are non-small cell.
The ratio of small cell lung cancer to non-small cell lung cancer
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Small cell lung cancer is called this because when the cancer cells are looked at under a microscope they are very small. It’s sometimes called oat cell cancer.
Small cell lung cancer is usually caused by smoking, and it’s rare for someone who has never smoked to develop this type of lung cancer. Small cell lung cancer is often fast-growing and can spread quickly.
There are three main types of non-small cell lung cancer. Sometimes it’s not possible to tell which type someone has. This is because when the cells are looked at under a microscope, they are not developed enough or the biopsy doesn’t contain enough cells to diagnose the different types of NSCLC.
A less common type of cancer that can affect the covering of the lungs (the pleura) is called mesothelioma|. This is a cancer of the membrane that covers the surface of the lungs and lines the inside of the chest. It often occurs in people who have been exposed to asbestos.
A rare type of cancer called a carcinoid tumour can sometimes develop in the lungs. Carcinoid tumours are a type of neuroendocrine cancer. The neuroendocrine system is a network of glands that produce hormones, which helps the different organs of the body to function. Rarer types of cancer, such as soft tissue sarcomas|, can also develop in the lungs.
Content last reviewed: 1 September 2012
Next planned review: 2014
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© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
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