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What is Lung Cancer?

Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer related death, killing more people than breast, colon, and prostate cancer put together. Lung cancer is the biggest cancer killer in both men and women and smoking is the most common cause of it. Cigarette smoking is the single most preventable cause of death in the United States.1 Lung cancer primarily occurs in the elderly as 2/3 of diagnosed are 65 years or older.2

Here are some key statistics:

  • 108,355 men and 87,897 women were diagnosed with lung cancer in 2004
  • 89,575 men and 68,431 women died from lung cancer in 20043

Types of Lung Cancer

Lung cancer types are determined by the sort of cells in the cancer. There are two main types:

1.) Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer – Approximately 85% of lung cancer cases are non-small cell lung cancer, which makes it the most common type of lung cancer. This type of cancer progresses less rapidly than small cell lung cancer.4


  • Squamous cell carcinoma– This type of cancer begins in the flat cells lining the lung and is usually found in the center of the lung by an air tube (bronchi).
  • Large cell carcinoma– This cancer grows and spreads more rapidly than the other types and can occur anywhere in any part of the lung.
  • Adenocarcinoma– This is a cancer that begins in the cells of the alveoli and is often found in an outer area of the lung.5
  • Bronchioalveolar carcinoma- this is a rare type of cancer that forms near the lungs’ air sacs.6

2.) Small Cell Lung Cancer


Small cell lung cancer is the deadliest form of lung cancer7 and is almost exclusively found in heavy smokers. This type of cancer grows quickly and spreads to other organs.8 This cancer usually starts in the air tubes (bronchi) in the center of the chest and grows quickly. Small cell lung cancer creates large masses (tumors) that can rapidly spread to other parts of the body, including the brain, liver, and bone.9

Other Lung Cancer Resources:



  1. National Cancer Institute. (2004). Cigarette Smoking and Cancer: Questions and Answers.
  2. American Cancer Society. (2007). What Are the Key Statistics for Small Cell Lung Cancer?
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2007). Lung Cancer Statistics.
  4. National Library of Medicine. (2006). Lung cancer- non-small cell.
  5. Ibid.
  6. CancerCare, Inc. Lung Cancer 101: Types of Lung Cancer.
  7. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2007). Lung Cancer.
  8. The Ohio State University Medical Center. Lung Cancer.
  9. ADAM Health Encyclopedia. (2006). Lung cancer – small cell.

For more information:

Go to the Lung Cancer health topic.