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The two main types of lung cancer

As the name suggests, lung cancer is the cancer that starts in the lung. There are two main types of lung cancer: small cell lung cancer (SCLC) and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Non-small cell lung cancer accounts for about 85 percent of lung cancer cases in the UK, while Small cell lung cancer accounts for the remaining 15 percent of lung cancers. Both types of lung cancer are serious and can be fatal.

Small cell lung cancer (SCLC)

Small cell lung cancer, sometimes called oat cell cancer, gets its name from the fact that when the cancer cells are observed under a microscope they are very small. While very small, the cancer cells grow rapidly and can have fatal effects if not detected and treated early.

SCLC is largely caused by smoking. It is rare for someone who has never smoked to develop this type of lung cancer. Just as the cancer cells grow very fast, the cancer itself spreads to other parts of the body faster than non-small cell lung cancer.

The stages of small cell lung cancer development move from Limited stage to Extensive stage.In the Limited stage, the cancer is found on one side of the chest, affecting just one part of the lung and nearby lymph nodes.In the Extensive stage, the cancer has spread to other regions of the chest and other parts of the body.

Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)

Non-small-cell lung cancer is the most common types of lung cancer, accounting for about one in five cancer cases. NSCLC mainly affects older people aged 70-74 years, although with the rates of lung cancer rising sharply it is increasingly occurring in people younger than 40.

The cancer can manifest in one of three main ways: adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma or large-cell carcinoma. The American Joint Commission on Cancer has a staging system for describing the growth and spread of the cancer that uses Roman numerals and letters, such as 'Stage IA' lung cancer.

Rare type of lung cancer you should know about

Carcinoid tumour is a rare type of cancer you should also know about because it sometimes develops in the lungs. Carcinoid tumours affect the neuroendocrine system, which is a network of glands that produce hormones that help with proper functioning of different body organs.About 2,000 people are diagnosed with a carcinoid tumour each year in the UK.

The type of lung cancer you have will determine the treatment you get. Understanding the major types of lung cancer that occur is, therefore, very important.

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