Types of Lung cancer

There are different types of primary lung cancer and they are divided into 2 main groups:

  • Small cell lung cancer (SCLC)
  • Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC): can be divided further into three different types of lung cancer.

All types of Lung cancer have similar symptoms like a cough, shortness of breath, chest pain and weight loss. They are also diagnosed using similar diagnostics procedures: CT or PET/CT, bronchoscopy and biopsy. However, their treatment varies considerably and their response to treatment and prognosis is also different for each type.

Small cell lung cancer (SCLC)

About 12 out of every 100 lung cancers diagnosed are this type (12%). They look like small cells under the microscope and they tend to spread quite early on to other parts of the body. Small cell lung cancer is usually caused by smoking. Surgery is rarely used for this type of lung cancer and treatment is normally by a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)

About 87 out of 100 lung cancers in the UK (87%) are non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). There are three common types grouped together because they behave in a similar way. Recently, there have been some differences in the way they are treated especially with regards to systemic therapy.

The three types are adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and large cell carcinoma.


This is the most common type and starts in the mucus making gland cells in the lining of your airways.

Squamous cell cancer

This type develops in the flat cells that cover the surface of your airways. It tends to grow near the centre of the lung.

Large cell carcinoma

The cancer cells appear large and round under the microscope.


A less common type of lung cancer is called mesothelioma. This type of cancer affects the membrane which covers the surface of the lungs and lines the inside of the chest. It occurs in people who have been exposed to asbestos in the past.