Types of Lung Cancer and their Individual Implications

Lung cancer is by far the most dangerous cancer type recognized by the medical science. It is also one of the leading causes of deaths among millions of people every year. Digging a bit deeper into lung cancer, its types and further their separate implications, the cancerous condition can be broadly classified into two types – small cell lung cancer (SCLC) and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). The two types grow, spread and are treated in very different ways. So, differentiating between them is very important.

Typically, SCLC makes for only 10-15 percent of the total lung cancer cases registered across the globe. NSCLC, on the other hand, is a common condition and makes for the remaining 85 percent cases. The former is strongly related to smoking cigarettes and metastasizes rapidly to other parts of the body, causing grave damage within a small span of time. The latter is further divided into three types, depending upon the type of cancerous cells found in the tumor. These are as follows:

Adenocarcinoma – Nearly 40 percent of people with lung cancer have adenocarcinoma. While it’s typically associated with smoking similar to other types of lung cancers, this type is also prevalent in non-smokers, especially women. Most adenocarcinoma cases develop in the outer areas of the lungs. This means that they have a tendency to spread to the surrounding lymph nodes and tissues of the body. Individuals with adenocarcinoma have a better chance of getting cured than those with other types of lung cancer.

Squamous cell carcinomas – Statistics and reports suggest that squamous cell carcinoma was once more common than adenocarcinoma, but today, it accounts for only about 25 percent of the non-small cell lung cancer cases. The condition usually arises in the central chest area, in and around the bronchi and mostly stays within the lungs. It may, to a maximum, spread to the lymph nodes, forming a large cavity.

Large cell carcinomas – Also known as undifferentiated carcinomas, it’s the most uncommon type of NSCLC and accounts for only 10-15 percent of all lung cancer cases. The cancer type has the highest tendency of spreading to surrounding lymph nodes and to the distant of sites of the body.

Apart from these, a handful of other cancers can also arise in the lung. These are less common as compared to NSCLC and SCLC, and comprise only 5-10 percent of lung cancer cases.

Bronchial carcinoids – The type account for not more than 5 percent of total lung cancer cases registered in a year. These tumors are small in size (about 3-4 cm or less) and occur mostly in individuals under 40 years of age. Bronchial carcinoid is completely unrelated to cigarette smoking and generally grows and spreads more slowly than bronchogenic cancer. Thanks to its strong symptoms, the condition can be detected at an early stage and completely cured.

Cancers of supporting lung tissue, including muscle, blood vessels, smooth muscle, and cells engaged in immune response, also qualify as rare lung cancers.

Symptoms of Small Cell Lung Cancer

SCLC doesn’t showcase any prominent symptoms, especially at an early stage of its development. It begins showcasing its presence once it has spread to other parts of the body as well. Typical symptoms of SCLC are as follows:

  • Experiencing pain in the chest
  • shortness of breath
  • wheezing
  • oozing bloody mucus from the lungs
  • facial swelling
  • cough or hoarseness that persists for long
  • a loss of appetite
  • unexpected loss of weight
  • fatigue

Symptoms Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Similar to SCLC, people with NCLC also do not witness any symptoms in its early stage of development. They begin to feel uneasy once the tumor starts affecting its nearing tissues. Usually, persistent cough is accompanied by severe pain the chest indicates the presence of NSCLC cancer. Other symptoms include:

  • fatigue
  • coughing up blood
  • wheezing
  • shortness of breath
  • phlegm, typically reddish or brownish in color

Diagnosis of Small Cell Lung Cancer

A thorough physical examination along with the study of a patient’s medical history make for the first two steps in the diagnosis of SCLC. If the condition is suspected, the physician will use a set of related tests to confirm or deny the presence of SCLC in the body. In case the diagnosis of SCLC is confirmed, he/she then screens the stage of the cancer, which further helps the physician in designing a proper course of treatment for the patient.

The following set of tests is used for diagnosing SCLC:

  • Chest X-ray – It produces a clear and detailed image of the lungs.
  • CT scan – It showcases a number of cross-sectional X-ray images of the lungs
  • MRI – A test that uses magnetic-field technology to detect the presence of tumor(s) in and around the lungs
  • Bronchoscopy – It helps in studying the lungs and their structure in a much detailed manner and suspect the existence of any tumors.
  • Sputum culture – A test which helps in studying a liquid substance produced by the lungs, when a person coughs. It may contain cancerous cells that can help in detecting cancer.

SCLC may also be diagnosed during regular screening tests for lung cancer. Usually physicians recommend lung cancer screening to individuals who showcase an increased risk for developing such a condition:

  • Individuals who smoke more than 30 packs of cigarettes in a year
  • Those aging between 55 and 75 years
  • Those who are in a fairly good health condition
  • Individuals who are active smokers or those who have quit smoking in the past 15 years

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

NSCLC has obvious symptoms which suggest its presence in the body. However, the only way to be sure about the existence of the condition is by examining a patient’s lung tissue under a microscope.

Analyzing the cells present in a person’s sputum or phlegm can also help in diagnosing some forms of NSCLC, though it’s quite uncommon in this case.

A biopsy is another way to detect NSCLC cancer. Here, a small portion of a suspicious mass present in or around the lungs is extracted using a needle or small surgery and tested for the presence of cancerous cells in it. Routine screening and X-rays are not recommended in case if NSCLC diagnosis, unless a person showcases similar symptoms.