Types of Cancer

On the basis of the aspect shown by tumour cells when examined under the microscope we can distinguish two different types of lung cancer:

1. the NON small-cell lung cancer

it is the most common form and accounts for 75-80 per cent of all lung cancers. Generally it develops and spreads out more slowly than the small cell lung cancer.

The NON small cell lung cancer is in turn divided into three different types:

Squamous cell carcinoma (or epidermoid or spinocellular carcinoma): it is the most widespread in men and accounts for approximately 30 per cent of all lung tumours.

“Living With Squamous Cell Lung Cancer: A Guide for Patients” (PDF)

A new educational booklet, that provides specific information on squamous cell lung cancer to patients and their caregivers, with a focus on the advanced stage of this cancer, is available.

Adenocarcinoma: it arises from the cells secreting the bronchial mucus; its frequency is 30-40 per cent. It is the most frequent lung cancer among the nonsmokers and women.

The frequency of adenocarcinoma is constantly increasing.

Large cell carcinoma: its name derives from the round large cells appearing when a biopsy sample is examined under the microscope. It accounts for about 15 per cent of all lung cancers.

In the last few decades the squamous cell carcinoma is declining while a relative increase in adenocarcinomas is observed, probably due to a change in cigarette production and composition.

2. The small cell lung carcinoma or microcytoma or ‘oat cell’ carcinoma, so defined because of the characteristic shape of its cells. The small cell lung cancer is definitely more aggressive than the non small cell lung cancer. The microcytoma is characterised by rapid growth and is more likely to spread to other organs. Just because of its aggressivity, surgical resection is generally not indicated. The small cell lung cancer responds very well to chemotherapy and radiation therapy, but nevertheless the disease is recurrent (that is to say reappears) after a period which varies from person to person in almost all cases.

M. Longo, MD

Related File

“Lung Cancer: you can face it if you know it better” (pdf)

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