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Types of Lung Cancer

There are two major categories of lung cancer—non-small cell (approximately 85 percent of all lung cancers) and small cell (about 10 percent ). A smaller percentage of lung cancers are called carcinoid tumors.

Non-Small Cell

Non-small cell lung cancer is a term that includes several types of cancer that behave similarly. Each type is made up of different kinds of cancer cells that grow and spread in different ways.The types of non-small cell cancers include:


Cancer that begins in the glandular cells that line the small airways and tiny air sacs inside the lungs (alveoli) and produce substances, such as mucus, in the lungs

Bronchioloalveolar cell carcinoma (BAC)

A slower growing subtype of adenocarcinoma 

Squamous cell carcinoma

Cancer that begins in the squamous cells, which are thin, flat cells that look a bit like scales on a fish; it is also known as epidermoid cancer.

Large cell carcinoma

Cancer that tends to begin in several types of large cells within the lung

There are a number of less common types of non-small cell lung cancer. They are:

  • Carcinoid tumor
  • Pleomorphic carcinoma
  • Adenoid cystic carcinoma
  • Large-cell neuroendocrine carcinoma (LCNEC)
  • Adenosquamous carcinoma
  • Poorly-differentiated carcinoma
  • Unclassified carcinoma 

Small Cell (aka Oat Cell Carcinoma)

Small cell lung cancer involves cancer cells that are smaller in size than most other types of cancer cells. It is different from non-small cell lung cancer in the size of the cancer cells and the ways the cells grow and spread. Although the cells involved in small cell lung cancer are small, they are able to reproduce very rapidly, so they often produce large tumors, and they are able to easily spread to the lymph nodes and other areas of the body.


Carcinoid lung tumors are the least common type of lung cancer. These are low-grade cancers with slower tumor growth and infrequent metastases to local lymph nodes. They are different from non-small cell and small cell lung cancer in that the tumor begins in the hormone-producing cells within the lung. Carcinoid tumors can also begin in other organs in the body. The digestive tract, specifically the small intestine and the rectum, are the most common places to find carcinoid tumors.

Carcinoid tumors are typically slow growing, and they often do not produce symptoms until they have been growing for many years. The tumors are cancerous, but because they are slow growing, they are often curable. There are two main types of carcinoid lung cancers. They are:

  • Typical
  • Atypical

In the United States, approximately 3,000 adults will be diagnosed with carcinoid lung tumors every year. The overall 5-year survival rate is 85 to 90 percent for people diagnosed and treated appropriately for typical carcinoid tumors of the lung and 50 to 60 percent for those diagnosed with atypical carcinoid tumors. Please consider, however, that all cancer survival statistics should be interpreted with caution.

Contact Us

If you are concerned about lung cancer or other lung diseases, please contact your physician to discuss ways to reduce your risk and whether or not you should be screened for cancer. If you do not have a physician, you may request a first time appointment with a member of our thoracic oncology team by calling 312-695-3800 or call our Physician Referral Service at 1-877-926-4664. You may also request a first time appointment online.

Last UpdateJune 10, 2011


To make an appointment with a physician, please call 1-877-926-4664.

New patients can request an appointment online.