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Types of lung cancer

There are two main types of primary lung cancer. They behave in different ways and respond to treatment differently.

They are:

  • non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) – this is the most common type
  • small cell lung cancer (SCLC) – this makes up about 1 in 7 lung cancers (about 15%).

Non-small cell lung cancer

There are three main types:

  • Adenocarcinoma. This develops from mucus-producing cells that line the airways.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma. This develops in the cells that line the airways.
  • Non-small cell lung cancer not otherwise specified (NOS). This is when the pathologist cannot say for certain which type of NSCLC it is. This type is uncommon.

Small cell lung cancer

Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) gets its name from how the cancer cells look under a microscope.

Mesothelioma

This is a cancer of the covering of the lungs (the pleura). It is less common. We have separate information about mesothelioma that we can send you.

Rarer types of lung cancer

Some people may get another type of cancer that starts in the lung. For example, a neuroendocrine tumour (sometimes called carcinoid tumour) is a rare cancer type that sometimes starts in the lungs.

We can send you more information about neuroendocrine tumours.

Watch our introduction to cancer

Consultant Medical Oncologist Dr Gregg Wilson explains what cancer is, how it develops, how cancer can be treated and what might happen.

Watch our introduction to cancer

Consultant Medical Oncologist Dr Gregg Wilson explains what cancer is, how it develops, how cancer can be treated and what might happen.

Back to Understanding

The lungs

When we breathe in, the lungs take oxygen into the bloodstream and circulate it all around the body.

About lung cancer

Lung cancer is a common cancer that is usually caused by smoking.

Why do cancers come back?

Sometimes, tiny cancer cells are left behind after cancer treatment. These can divide to form a new tumour.