Lung cancer includes two main types: non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer. Smoking causes most lung cancers, but nonsmokers can also develop lung cancer. Explore the links on this page to learn more about lung cancer treatment, prevention, screening, statistics, research, clinical trials, and more.

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Treatment

  • Non-small cell lung cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the lung.
  • There are several types of non-small cell lung cancer.
  • Smoking is the major risk factor for non-small cell lung cancer.
  • Signs of non-small cell lung cancer include a cough that doesn’t go away and shortness of breath.
  • Tests that examine the lungs are used to detect (find), diagnose, and stage non-small cell lung cancer.
  • If lung cancer is suspected, a biopsy is done.
  • Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.
  • For most patients with non-small cell lung cancer, current treatments do not cure the cancer.

The lungs are a pair of cone-shaped breathing organs in the chest. The lungs bring oxygen into the body as you breathe in. They release carbon dioxide, a waste product of the body’s cells, as you breathe out. Each lung has sections called lobes. The left lung has two lobes. The right lung is slightly larger and has three lobes. Two tubes called bronchi lead from the trachea (windpipe) to the right and left lungs. The bronchi are sometimes also involved in lung cancer. Tiny air sacs called alveoli and small tubes called bronchioles make up the inside of the lungs.

A thin membrane called the pleura covers the outside of each lung and lines the inside wall of the chest cavity. This creates a sac called the pleural cavity. The pleural cavity normally contains a small amount of fluid that helps the lungs move smoothly in the chest when you breathe.

There are two main types of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer.

See the following PDQ summaries for more information about lung cancer:

  • Small Cell Lung Cancer Treatment
  • Unusual Cancers of Childhood Treatment
  • Lung Cancer Prevention
  • Lung Cancer Screening

Each type of non-small cell lung cancer has different kinds of cancer cells. The cancer cells of each type grow and spread in different ways. The types of non-small cell lung cancer are named for the kinds of cells found in the cancer and how the cells look under a microscope:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma: Cancer that forms in the thin, flat cells lining the inside of the lungs. This is also called epidermoid carcinoma.
  • Large cell carcinoma: Cancer that may begin in several types of large cells.
  • Adenocarcinoma: Cancer that begins in the cells that line the alveoli and make substances such as mucus.

Other less common types of non-small cell lung cancer are: pleomorphic, carcinoid tumor, salivary gland carcinoma, and unclassified carcinoma.

Small Cell Lung Cancer Treatment

  • Small cell lung cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the lung.
  • There are two main types of small cell lung cancer.
  • Smoking is the major risk factor for small cell lung cancer.
  • Signs and symptoms of small cell lung cancer include coughing, shortness of breath, and chest pain.
  • Tests and procedures that examine the lungs are used to detect (find), diagnose, and stage small cell lung cancer.
  • Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.
  • For most patients with small cell lung cancer, current treatments do not cure the cancer.

These two types include many different types of cells. The cancer cells of each type grow and spread in different ways. The types of small cell lung cancer are named for the kinds of cells found in the cancer and how the cells look when viewed under a microscope:

  • Small cell carcinoma (oat cell cancer).
  • Combined small cell carcinoma.

Childhood Pleuropulmonary Blastoma Treatment

Pleuropulmonary blastomas form in the tissue of the lung and pleura (tissue that covers the lungs and lines the inside of the chest). They can also form in the organs between the lungs including the heart, aorta, and pulmonary artery, or in the diaphragm (the main breathing muscle below the lungs).

In most cases, pleuropulmonary blastomas are linked to a certain change in the DICER1 gene.

The types of pleuropulmonary blastoma include the following:

  • Type I tumors are cyst-like tumors in the lung. They are most common in children aged 2 years and younger and have a good chance of recovery. Type Ir tumors are Type I tumors that have regressed (gotten smaller) or have not grown or spread. After treatment, a Type I tumor may recur as a Type II or III tumor.
  • Type II tumors are cyst-like with some solid parts. These tumors sometimes spread to the brain or other parts of the body.
  • Type III tumors are solid tumors. These tumors often spread to the brain or other parts of the body.

Childhood Tracheobronchial Tumors Treatment

  • Tracheobronchial tumor is a disease in which abnormal cells form in the lining of the trachea and bronchi.
  • Signs and symptoms of a tracheobronchial tumor include headache and blocked or stuffy nose.
  • Tests that examine the trachea and bronchi are used to help diagnose tracheobronchial tumor.
  • Certain factors affect treatment options and prognosis (chance of recovery).

There are several types of tumors or cancers that can form in the trachea or bronchi. These may include the following:

  • Carcinoid tumor (most common in children).
  • Mucoepidermoid carcinoma.
  • Inflammatory myofibroblastic tumor.
  • Rhabdomyosarcoma.
  • Granular cell tumor.

Lung Cancer Prevention

More people die from lung cancer than from any other type of cancer. Lung cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States, after skin cancer.

The number of new cases and deaths from lung cancer is highest in black men.

Lung Cancer Screening

  • Tests are used to screen for different types of cancer when a person does not have symptoms.
  • Three screening tests have been studied to see if they decrease the risk of dying from lung cancer.
  • Screening with low-dose spiral CT scans has been shown to decrease the risk of dying from lung cancer in heavy smokers.
  • Screening with chest x-rays and/or sputum cytology does not decrease the risk of dying from lung cancer.
  • Screening tests for lung cancer are being studied in clinical trials.

What is Cancer?

  • Cancer can start almost anywhere in the human body, which is made up of trillions of cells. Normally, human cells grow and divide to form new cells as the body needs them. When cells grow old or become damaged, they die, and new cells take their place.

  • Cancer prevention is action taken to lower the risk of getting cancer. This can include maintaining a healthy lifestyle, avoiding exposure to known cancer-causing substances, and taking medicines or vaccines that can prevent cancer from developing.

  • Cancer can cause many different symptoms. Most often these symptoms are not caused by cancer, but by benign tumors or other problems. If you have symptoms that last for a couple of weeks, your doctor will do a physical exam and order tests or other procedures to find out what is causing your symptoms.