Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is by far the most common type of lung cancer. About 85 out of every 100 cases of lung cancer are NSCLC. It starts when the cells that make up the lining of the lungs become abnormal. They grow very quickly and form a mass called a tumor. Treatment for early-stage non-small cell lung cancer usually involves surgery.
There are 2 main subtypes (kinds) of NSCLC, called adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Other subtypes are not as common, including large cell neuroendocrine carcinomas and sarcomatoid carcinoma. MSK has world-class experts in classifying (describing) these subtypes. This lets us match the non-small cell lung cancer subtype to the best surgical procedures.
Adenocarcinoma starts in the cells that line the alveoli. These are the tiny air sacs in the lungs where oxygen enters the blood and carbon dioxide leaves it. About half of all NSCLCs cases are adenocarcinoma. It is the most common kind of lung cancer among smokers, nonsmokers, and people under age 45.
Squamous cell carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma starts in the cells that line the bronchial tubes in the center of the lungs. About 3 out of every 10 cases of lung cancers are squamous cell carcinoma. It is more common in men, and usually is linked to smoking. Squamous cell carcinoma is sometimes called epidermoid carcinoma.
Large cell neuroendocrine carcinoma
Large cell neuroendocrine carcinoma is also called undifferentiated lung cancer. About 5 out of every 100 non-small cell lung cancers are this type.
Sarcomatoid carcinoma is a rare cancer that is like both sarcoma and carcinoma. Sarcoma starts in the bone, cartilage, fat, muscle, blood vessels, or other connective or supportive tissue. Carcinoma is cancer that starts in the skin or in tissues that line or cover organs. Sarcomatoid carcinoma looks like a mixture of these two types.