A Look at the Four Most Common Types of Lung Cancer

Lung cancer diagnoses can definitely be scary to hear, but most patients do not know that the underlying type of cancer can make a huge difference in how treatable the condition is and what risks may be involved. According to the American Cancer Society, there could be more than 200,000 new cases of lung cancer diagnosed in 2020 alone. While this number encompasses all the different types, there are four unique types of lung cancer that you should know about if you believe you may be at risk.

1. Lung Nodules

Lung nodules are basically masses of tissue that develop inside of or on the lungs. These masses can be benign, but the cancerous forms can be metastatic, which usually means they develop due to cancer somewhere else in the body that has spread to the lungs. Lung nodules usually get discovered by accident because it is rare for there to be symptoms unless a mass is considerably large. For instance, a nodule may be found during a chest x-ray due to an injury.

2. Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC)

Small cell lung cancer is one of the types of cancer that is most often associated with smoking tobacco. Unlike some other forms of lung cancer, SCLC can be the fastest spreading type of cancer, which can make it harder to treat because it can progress so rapidly. The two types of SCLC include small cell carcinoma and combined small cell carcinoma, both of which are usually treated with a combination of chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Surgery is not typically an option with SCLC because of the risk of causing cancer to spread to other parts of the body.

3. Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a type of lung cancer that can portray itself in two different ways: pleural mesothelioma and peritoneal mesothelioma. According to Asbestos.net, pleural mesothelioma develops usually in the lining of the lungs while peritoneal mesothelioma develops in the lining of the abdominal area. Both forms of cancer can bring about similar symptoms and usually have the same underlying cause. Mesothelioma is most often related to exposure to asbestos, which is now considered to be a dangerous mineral but was once used in many everyday products.

4. Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC)

Non-small cell lung cancer is more common than other forms of cancer, and the underlying cause of this type of cancer can be variable from patient to patient. Some patients may have been exposed to cigarette smoke, but the type of lung cancer may also develop after prolonged exposure to certain chemicals or even asbestos. NSCLC can show up in three different subtypes, including:

  • Adenocarcinoma – Most common of all types of lung cancer and prevalent among non-smokers
  • Large cell carcinomas – Consists of fast-growing tumors and has variable, sometimes unknown underlying causes
  • Squamous cell carcinoma – Usually develops in the bronchi of the lungs and not directly in the lungs

All three types of NSCLC may first be treated with some form of surgery, but additional treatments can sometimes be necessary as well.