Understanding Lung Cancer
Lung cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the lung. There are two main types of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer.
Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer
There are several types of non-small cell lung cancer. 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. They are:
- 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 (air sacs) and make substances such as mucus.
Other less common types of non-small cell lung cancer are adenosquamous carcinoma, sarcomatoid carcinoma, salivary gland carcinoma, carcinoid tumor, and unclassified carcinoma.
The prognosis and treatment options for non-small cell lung cancer depend on the following factors:
- The stage of the cancer (the size of the tumor and whether it is in the lung only or has spread to other places in the body)
- The type of lung cancer
- Whether the cancer has mutations in certain genes, such as the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) gene or the anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) gene
- Whether there are symptoms such as coughing or trouble breathing
- Your general health
Nine types of standard treatment are currently used to treat people with non-small cell lung cancer: surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, laser therapy, photodynamic therapy (PDT), cryosurgery, and electrocautery.
Small Cell Lung Cancer
There are two main types of small cell lung 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. The two types of small cell lung cancer are
- Small cell carcinoma (oat cell cancer)
- Combined small cell carcinoma
The prognosis and treatment options for small cell lung cancer depend on the following factors:
- The stage of the cancer (whether it is in the chest cavity only or has spread to other places in the body)
- Your age, gender, and general health
For certain people, their prognosis also depends on whether they are treated with both chemotherapy and radiation.
Six types of standard treatment are currently used to treat people with small cell lung cancer: surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, laser therapy, and endoscopic stent placement.
Lung Cancer Clinical Trials
New types of treatment for both non-small cell and small cell lung cancer are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for people with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment. People with either type of lung cancer may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial.
Source: National Cancer Institute, cancer.gov
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, November/December 2021.
Lung Cancer Resources
American Cancer Society
American Lung Association
Cancer Support Community
GO2 Foundation for Lung Cancer
The Lung Cancer Action Network (LungCAN)
The Lung Cancer Awareness Month Coalition
Lung Cancer Research Foundation
National Cancer Institute