General Information About Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer
Non-small cell lung cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the lung.
The lungs are a pair of cone-shaped breathing organs that are found within the chest. The lungs bring oxygen into the body and take out carbon dioxide, which is a waste product of the body’s cells. Each lung has sections called lobes. The left lung has 2 lobes. The right lung, which is slightly larger, has 3 lobes. A thin membrane called the pleura surrounds the lungs. Two tubes called bronchi lead from the trachea (windpipe) to the right and left lungs. The bronchi are sometimes also involved in lung cancer. Tiny air sacs called alveoli and small tubes called bronchioles make up the inside of the lungs.
There are 2 types of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Small Cell Lung Cancer Treatment for more information.)
There are 5 types of non-small cell lung cancer.
The 5 types of non-small cell lung cancer have different kinds of cancer cells. The cancer cells of each type grow and spread in different ways. The types of non-small cell lung cancer are named for the kinds of cells found in the cancer and how the cells look when viewed under a microscope:
- Squamous cell carcinoma: Cancer that begins in squamous cells, which are thin, flat cells that look like fish scales. This is also called epidermoid carcinoma.
- Adenocarcinoma: Cancer that begins in cells that have glandular (secretory) properties.
- Large cell carcinoma: Cancer in which the cells are large and look abnormal when viewed under a microscope.
- Adenosquamous carcinoma: Cancer that begins in cells that look flattened when viewed under a microscope. These cells also have glandular (secretory) properties.
- Undifferentiated carcinoma: Cancer cells that do not look like normal cells and multiply uncontrollably.