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Types of Lung Cancer

Common Types of Lung Cancer

UPMC Hillman Cancer Center experts have vast experience in caring for people with all types of lung cancers.

These include non-small cell lung cancers, small cell lung cancer, and other cancers that affect the lungs.

Non-small Cell Lung Cancer

About 85 percent of all lung cancer cases are non-small cell lung cancers (NSCLC).

This type of lung cancer includes subtypes, such as:

  • Adenocarcinoma
  • Squamous cell lung carcinoma
  • Large-cell carcinoma

Tobacco smoking plays a role in nearly all cases of NSCLC, but adenocarcinomas also occur in people who have never smoked.

NSCLC begins in the cells that line the tubes of the lungs, from the bronchi to the alveoli.

Squamous cell carcinoma often begins in larger tubes, such as the bronchi. Adenocarcinomas tend to form in peripheral lung tissues.

Surgery is often the preferred treatment approach to NSCLC.

In people for whom surgery isn't an option, radiation therapy can help control the growth and spread of the disease. If the cancer has not spread beyond the lungs, both radiation therapy and chemotherapy can make long-term survival possible.

Doctors usually use radiation therapy to treat metastatic disease, in which the cancer has spread to other tissues. In these cases, radiation can slow the spread of the cancer and provide pain relief.

Small Cell Lung Cancer

Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is an aggressive disease that starts in the larger airways. This cancer is strongly associated with smoking tobacco.

SCLC accounts for about 15 percent of all lung cancers. It often goes undetected until it reaches an advanced stage, when it may already have spread.

SCLC is hard to treat because it spreads so quickly.

Chemo and radiation therapy are more effective against isolated SCLC than they are against NSCLC. SCLC that as already spread isn't easy to target with these treatments.


Mesothelioma is a rare type of lung cancer. It affects fewer than 20,000 people per year in the United States.

Mesothelioma begins in the pleura — the lining of the heart, lungs, and abdomen. It's aggressive and hard to treat.

Stage III Non-small Cell Lung Cancer

This disease affects the lymph nodes along the major tracheobronchial airways or other structures of the chest.

Stage III non-small-cell lung cancer doesn't include tumors that have spread to the other lung or elsewhere in the body.

Managing this disease requires close coordination between surgical, radiation, and medical oncologists to devise the most effective treatment plan. Pulmonary doctors also take part in your care during and after treatment.

Locally Advanced Lung Cancer

When lung cancer invades the tissues and lymph nodes surrounding the lung, it becomes more challenging to treat.

Tumors may obstruct the airways or cause fluid to build up, making it hard to breathe.

UPMC thoracic surgeons use endoscopic approaches to reduce airway obstructions and bleeding.

Laser and endobronchial stenting techniques involve placing hollow tubes (stents) in the airways.

The surgeon inserts the stents through the nose or mouth using an endoscope. This provides a clear path to allow the patient to breathe.

The stents may be permanent or temporary, depending on each patient's needs.

Contact Us About Lung Cancer Care

Contact us about lung cancer care at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center at 412-623-LUNG (5864).