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What Are the Four Types of Lung Cancer?

The four types of lung cancer are based on the cell types and location, as well as how they look under a microscope.The four types of lung cancer are based on the cell types and location, as well as how they look under a microscope.

Lung cancer is classified into four types, depending on how the cancer cells look under the microscope.

  • Small Cell Lung Cancer (Oat cell lung cancer): This cancer often starts in the bronchi (major airways). Small cell cancers comprise 15% of lung cancers. These are the most aggressive cancers of the lung.
  • Non-Small Cell lung cancer (NSCLC) Adenocarcinoma: This type of lung cancer originates in the cells that normally secrete mucus. These are found in the smaller airways and have a slow growth rate.
  • Non-Small Cell lung cancer (NSCLC) Squamous Cell carcinoma (epidermoid carcinoma): This is the most common form of lung cancer (accounts for 30% of cases).  It is found in the central lung or main airways. This type has the strongest association with smoking.
  • Non-Small Cell lung cancer (NSCLC) Large Cell lung cancer: It may appear in any part of the lung.

How is lung cancer diagnosed?

Doctors use various diagnostic procedures and tests to diagnose lung cancer. These include:

  • A history and physical examination of the patient. This may help in identifying symptoms or signs that may point to lung cancer. 
  • The chest X-ray is usually the first test ordered in the diagnosis of lung cancer. Chest X-rays may reveal problematic areas in the lungs, but cannot confirm the presence of cancer.
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scans may be performed on the chest, abdomen, and/or brain to examine for both metastatic and lung tumors. 
  •  A spiral CT scan can be done as an annual screening test in chronic tobacco smokers between ages 55 and 80.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans are ordered when precise detail about a tumor's location is needed. 
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scanning is a specialized imaging technique that uses special (radioactive) drugs to produce a three-dimensional colored image of the tissues within the body. PET scans can check whether a tumor tissue is actively growing and map its location inside the organ.
  • Bone scans are used to create images of bones on a computer screen or on film. Doctors may perform a bone scan to check if the lung cancer has spread to the bones.
  • Sputum cytology:  The sputum of the patient is examined under a microscope to check if there are any malignant cells.  
  • Bronchoscopy: This test involves visualizing the airways through a thin probe inserted through the nose or mouth.  A sample can be removed from the suspicious tissue to be examined in the laboratory.
  • Needle biopsy: Needle is inserted into the chest to remove a small sample of your lung for examination under the microscope.
  • Thoracentesis: This involves the drawing or aspiration of a sample of fluid from the chest with a thin needle . This fluid is examined and a diagnosis is made.
  • Blood tests: While routine blood tests alone cannot diagnose lung cancer, they reveal other abnormalities that occur with lung cancer.
  • Molecular testing: This is an advanced test to find out the genetic composition of a patient’s lung cancer. This helps in giving highly specialized medicines that target a specific protein on the tumor.
  • Major surgical procedures: Surgical methods are the last option when all other tests fail to provide the correct diagnosis. 


Lung cancer is a disease in which lung cells grow abnormally in an uncontrolled way.
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What is the best treatment for lung cancer?

Treatment options for lung cancer may include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, participation in clinical trials, and/or palliative care. 

Doctors can decide the best treatment for a patient depending upon on: 

  • The type of lung cancer
  • The stage of the lung cancer
  • The overall health status of the patient

How long can you live with lung cancer?

Doctors use lung cancer survival rates to predict the percentage of people who survive a certain type cancer for a specific amount of time. It is based on a subset of the population and does not predict the number of years a particular individual will actually survive. However, in a study conducted by Wao H et al, it was found that untreated lung cancer patients live on an average of 7.15 months. 

The survival rates for lung cancer are as follows:

  • The lung cancer’s five-year survival rate (18.6%) is lower than many cancers of other organs, such as colorectal (64.5%), breast (89.6%), and prostate (98.2%).
  • The five-year survival rate for lung cancer is 56% when the cancer is only present in the lung. 
  • If the lung cancer has spread to other organs (metastasis), the five-year survival rate is only 5%.
  • More than half of people with lung cancer die within one year of their diagnosis.

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