Lung cancer specialist Dr. Jessica Bauman provides an overview of the types of lung cancer and describes how the subtype affects prognosis and treatment choices for patients.
Dr. Jessica Bauman is assistant professor in the department of hematology/oncology and as associate program director of the hematology/oncology fellowship training program at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. Learn more about Dr. Bauman here.
From my understanding, there are two main types of lung cancer – small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer. Would you provide a brief overview of how these two types of lung cancer differ?
Absolutely. So, I think it’s important for any new patient who’s coming in, to see me or any medical provider. The first thing we need to establish when we are thinking about a lung cancer diagnosis is what the cells look like under the microscope. And the simplest way to think about this is either they look like small cell lung cancer, or they look like non-small cell lung cancer.
And that really can decide what kind of treatment we need to pursue. For small cell lung cancer – small cell lung cancer can be a more aggressive lung cancer that certainly can spread throughout the body and requires more urgent treatment in general when we’re thinking about the speed in which we need to start to treat patients for this cancer. For non-small cell lung cancer, in general, we don’t have to start treatment as quickly as we need to for small cell. And there is a lot more information right now that we need other than just the simple non-small cell lung cancer diagnosis. We need to know whether it is adenocarcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma, which are further subdivided.
And then we often need even more information about those subtypes to be able to decide ultimately what the best treatment plan is.
Overall, I would say about 15 percent of lung cancers are small cell. So, they’re more rare. And about 80 percent to 85 percent of lung cancers are non-small cell. And the most frequent kind of non-small cell lung cancer right now is adenocarcinoma.