Lung cancer usually starts in the lining of an airway.
There are many different types of lung cancer, which are classified according to the type of cell affected. The two main types are:
- small cell lung cancer
- non-small cell lung cancer.
You can also get a type of lung cancer called mesothelioma.
Small cell lung cancer
- Makes up around 15% of lung cancers.
- Strongly linked with cigarette smoking.
- Tends to start in the middle of the lungs.
- Surgery is not often used for this type of tumour -- it's usually treated with drugs (chemotherapy) combined with radiotherapy.
- Named for the way cells look under a microscope.
- Types include small cell carcinoma ("oat cell cancer"), mixed small cell/large cell carcinoma and combined cell carcinoma.
Non-small cell lung cancer
- Makes up around 75-80% of lung cancers.
- Mainly affects the cells that line the tubes into the lungs (main bronchi) and smaller airways.
- If a non-small cell lung cancer is confined to a part of the lung, it might be surgically removed.
- If non-small cell lung cancer is not suitable for surgery other treatments may be necessary.
- Sometimes spreads into the chest wall and lymph nodes.
- Includes squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma, large cell carcinoma and bronchiolo-alveolar cell carcinoma.
- Malignant mesothelioma is cancer of the cells of the pleural membrane around the lungs.
- This is rare, but Australia has the highest incidence in the world (40 cases/million people).
- Strongly linked to asbestos exposure.
- Sometimes 25-50 years pass between asbestos exposure and development of the disease.
How common is it?
- Around 3,000 (1,950 males, 1,050 females) are diagnosed with lung cancer in NSW each year.
- Lung cancer is the third most common cancer in men and the fourth most common cancer in women.