types of lung cancer - the facts
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The different types of lung cancer

Generally speaking, there are two broad types of lung cancer - non-small cell lung carcinoma and small cell lung carcinoma. Lung cancer is a malignancy that forms in the lung tissues; the cells that line the air passages are the most common location for this type of cancer.

Small cell lung carcinoma (abbreviated SCLC) is often treated with a combination of radiation and chemotherapy. Non-small cell lung carcinoma (NSCLC) is treated with surgery, in many cases. The distinction between these two types of lung cancer is important because the treatment adopted depends on the cancer type.

Lung cancer is usually caused by tobacco use. This is the single most common cause of lung cancer. Non-smokers account for only about 10% of those affected by the disease. Here, the causes appear to be inhalation of second-hand smoke as well as exposure to polluted air, radon gas or asbestos. Genetic factors also play a role.

Of the two types of lung cancer, non-small cell lung carcinoma is more common. It accounts for around 80% of all cases of lung cancer. Small cell lung cancer makes up about 17% of lung cancer cases.

The term carcinoma refers to malignant growths that originate in a group of cells called the epithelial cells in the lung.

Contrary to popular belief, lung cancer does not strike all of a sudden. It usually develops over several years. In its early stages, it does not give rise to any noticeable symptoms and is therefore often not detected until it has turned much more aggressive. Lung cancer that has gone beyond the early stages can be observed in a CT scan or a chest x-ray. Confirmation of the presence of lung cancer is done with a biopsy.

The two types of lung cancer differ in the appearance as well as size of the malignant cells that are present. These differences can be observed under a microscope by trained professionals.

Non-small cell lung carcinomas are classified into three main types of lung cancer - large cell lung carcinoma, squamous cell lung carcinoma and adenocarcinoma.

Large cell lung carcinoma accounts for about 10% of cancers. It is dangerous because it spreads to other parts of the body quite early. It usually develops near the surface of the lung and grows very fast.

In contrast, squamous cell lung carcinoma mostly develops in the vicinity of a central bronchus. This is a relatively slower growing type of lung cancer and accounts for about 31% of lung cancers.

Adenocarcinoma is usually the result of smoking and accounts for about 30% of lung cancers. It is also one of the most common types of lung cancer in people who have never smoked. It starts in the peripheral tissues of the lung.

Small cell lung carcinoma is commonly found in habitual smokers. It is also called oat cell carcinoma. It is one of the types of lung cancer that grows rapidly. In the initial stages of treatment, small cell lung cancer responds well to chemotherapy. However, the outlook for patients with this type of cancer is worse mainly because it usually spreads to other parts of the body before being detected.

Doctors are careful to differentiate among the various types of lung cancer because each type responds differently to specific treatment options. A patient's treatment regimen is determined taking the cancer type into account.

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