What are the types of lung cancer?

In years past, lung cancers were generally classified into two major types: Non-small cell lung cancer or small cell lung cancer. However, in recent years, many molecular subtypes have been identified and used to develop therapies that target specific markers or characteristics of the cancer cells. At Miami Cancer Institute, every lung cancer patient receives molecular analysis to better understand the cancer subtype and help identify the best treatment plan using immunotherapy and other advanced therapies. We believe this is a critical step, as every lung cancer case is different, and modern treatment methods depend on careful and accurate analysis.

The general types of lung cancer include:

  • Non-small cell lung cancer. More than 85 percent of lung cancer diagnoses are non-small cell lung cancer. The types of non-small cell lung cancer are named for the types of cells where the cancer begins, and include:
  • Adenocarcinoma, which begins in cells that line the alveoli (tiny air sacs in the lungs where the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide takes place)
  • Squamous cell carcinoma, also called epidermoid carcinoma, which begins in the thin, flat cells in the lungs
  • Large cell carcinoma, which can begin in large cells anywhere in the lungs
  • Small cell lung cancer. Also known as oat-cell cancer, it accounts for less than 20 percent of lung cancer cases and tends to spread quickly to other parts of the body.

Some less common types of lung cancer include carcinoid tumor, salivary gland carcinoma, sarcoma and unclassified carcinoma.

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