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Types of Lung Cancer

US News High Performing Hospitals - Lung Cancer Surgery

Lung cancer is a disease in which cancerous cells form in the tissues around and inside the lung. There are various types of this disease.

Non-small cell lung cancer

Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is a disease where cancer cells develop slowly in the lung. Adenocarcinoma is the most common form of lung cancer and begins in the outer cells that produce mucus. Squamous cell carcinoma starts in the center of the lung and is most often linked to smoking. There are other less common types of non-small cell lung cancer that can begin in any part of the lung. Treatment options include surgery, immunotherapy, chemotherapy, radiation, or a combination of the above.

Small cell lung cancer

Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) develops in the airways between the trachea and lungs. It can spread quickly to the lymph nodes and other parts of the body. Surgery is reserved only for patients with limited disease.


Mesothelioma is a rare disease where cancer occurs in the lining of the chest or abdomen.

Image of the Respiratory System

Anatomy of the respiratory system, showing the trachea and both lungs and their lobes and airways. Lymph nodes and the diaphragm are also shown. Oxygen is inhaled into the lungs and passes through the thin membranes of the alveoli and into the bloodstream (see inset).
Anatomy of the respiratory system, showing the trachea and both lungs and their lobes and airways. Lymph nodes and the diaphragm are also shown. Oxygen is inhaled into the lungs and passes through the thin membranes of the alveoli and into the bloodstream (see inset).

Our Experts

Our lung cancer specialists have a high level of expertise and experience treating cancers of the lung and chest wall, including rare cancers. Our oncologists serve on national committees and write the guidelines for diagnosing and treating lung cancer. Our expert surgeons are leaders in robotic thoracic surgery and routinely teach and proctor others. Our radiologists and radiation oncologists are also leaders in their field, running clinical trials and performing cutting-edge treatments. We have dedicated pulmonologists who specialize in lung cancer biopsies. When patients are seen and treated at Huntsman Cancer Institute, they are in the best hands.

Our team of multidisciplinary specialists are dedicated to our patients and utilize a team approach. Together, we review each case, coordinate treatment, and plan follow-up care. As the only NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in the Mountain West, we are dedicated to ensuring our patients heal as quickly as possible by using the most advanced methods and innovative, state-of-the-art technology.

Treatment for lung cancers may involve several providers:

  • Medical doctors, surgeons, and radiation specialists
  • Diagnostic providers, such as pathologists and radiologists
  • Nurses, physician assistants, social workers, and physical and occupational therapists

Getting a Second Opinion

All patients can benefit from getting a second opinion from one of our lung cancer specialists. Make an appointment online today or call 801-587-7000.

Find a Lung Cancer Doctor

Specialties & Treatments

We have experience with many types of cancer and will work with patients and a team of lung cancer specialists to determine the best treatment plan. Treatment is different for each person and may include a combination of treatment options based on the stage of cancer, what the cancer care team recommends, and the patient’s wishes.

There are several types of treatments for lung cancers:

Some other treatments may include immunotherapy, targeted therapy, and watchful waiting. Learn more about cancer treatments for lung cancer.

Lung Cancer Surgeries

Brian Mitzman using Ion Machine

Surgery is the standard of care for patients with lung cancer. Most patients will have surgery as part of their treatment plan. Surgery may be the only treatment necessary. Some patients may undergo multiple treatments.

Several surgical approaches exist to treat lung cancer. Your surgeon will remove the cancer and if necessary, more may need to be removed. Many factors influence which surgery is right for each patient.

During each surgery, surgeons will also analyze your lymph nodes to ensure cancer cells have not spread.

Robotic Surgery

We are one of the only cancer centers in the United States to offer robotic surgery using the Intuitive da Vinci® Surgical System. Surgeons trained in robotic thoracic surgery use a computer and miniature camera to see inside the patient. The computer uses tiny surgical tools inside the body, mimicking the surgeon’s hand movements. This allows the surgeons more freedom to reach complex angles with precision and accuracy. Robotic surgery provides smaller incisions, faster healing times, less pain, and fewer complications for patients. It can be used for any surgery, if appropriate.

Robotic surgery is not right for every patient or every type of cancer. Our highly trained robotic surgeons will discuss the best possible options for each patient.

Recovering After Surgery

After surgery, it is essential to work with your doctor and follow a personalized care plan to manage any symptoms. Patients should discuss any concerns with their cancer care team and follow their guidance for managing symptoms. Most incisions will be closed with absorbable sutures and water-proof glue. There are minimal restrictions during recovery.

If recovering at home, make sure you get enough rest, eat a balanced diet, stay active, and avoid tobacco and other harmful substances. It is also important to attend follow-up appointments and communicate with the care team about any changes in symptoms or overall health. Our team is available 24/7 for any concerns or questions after discharge.

Additionally, patients who have undergone treatment for lung cancer may benefit from support groups to help manage the emotional impact of their diagnosis and treatment. With a comprehensive care plan and a strong support system, patients can navigate the challenges of lung cancer treatment and improve health outcomes.

Clinical Trials

Clinical trials at the Huntsman Cancer Institute test new ways to treat, diagnose, and manage symptoms and side effects of lung cancer and cancers of the chest wall.

Causes & Risk Factors

Anything that increases your chance of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean you will get cancer. It means your chances are higher than the average person’s. Talk with your doctor to learn more about your cancer risk.

The chance of getting lung cancer increases with age. There are other risk factors:

  • Smoking tobacco
  • A personal or family history lung cancer or lung disease
  • Exposure to secondhand smoke
  • Exposure to radiation 
  • Radiation therapy to the breast or chest, or imaging tests such as CT scans
  • Radon in the home or workplace
  • Exposure to air pollution
  • Infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

Learn more about cancer prevention.

Diagnosis & Stages

Diagnosis of Lung Cancer

Screening looks for cancer before patients have symptoms. Lung cancer screening can check for anything unusual if there is a history of smoking tobacco. Screening can rule out an issue or help find cancer at an early stage, when it may be easier to treat. Learn more about the importance of screenings and why lung cancer can be hard to diagnose.

Doctors use these tests to screen for and diagnose lung cancer:

  • Physical exam and health history: A health care provider examines the body for signs of disease. Personal health habits, past illnesses, and symptoms help guide the exam.
  • Lab tests: By testing tissues, blood, urine, or other substances in the body, the health care team can check to see how the lungs are functioning. They can also look for substances cells produce when cancer is present.
  • Imaging tests: Using dyes, x-rays, magnets, radio waves, and/or computer technology, the health care provider can create detailed images of internal organs. Patients may be asked to swallow a dye to help the health care team see the images. The dye may also be injected.
  • Biopsy: The health care provider removes cell or tissue samples so they can be checked for signs of cancer.

Signs & Symptoms

These could be signs of non-small cell and small cell lung cancer:

  • Pain or discomfort in the chest
  • Persistent or worsening cough
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing up blood
  • Hoarseness
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Abnormal weight loss 
  • Unusually tired
  • Swelling in the face and/or neck

Many other health problems can also cause these signs. If you have any of these signs, see your doctor as soon as possible.

Learn more about non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer from the National Cancer Institute.

Stages of Lung Cancer

Cancer stages show whether cancer has spread within or around the lung to other parts of the body. Cancer spreads in the body in three ways: through tissue, the lymph system, or the blood.

When cancer spreads from where it started to another part of the body, it is called metastasis. If non-small cell lung cancer spreads to the bones, the cancer cells in the bones are actually non-small cell lung cancer cells. The disease is metastatic non-small cell lung cancer, not bone cancer.

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Stages

  • Occult (hidden) stage: Cancer is found in the lung’s mucus or the airways that lead to the lung, but cannot be seen by imaging or bronchoscopy.
  • Stage 0 (carcinoma in situ): Tests find abnormal cells in the lining of the airways.
  • Stage 1 (1A & 1B): The cancer has formed up to five centimeters and/or has grown to other parts of the lung.
  • Stage 2 (2A & 2B): Cancer has spread to the lymph nodes on the same side of the chest as the tumor or is larger than five centimeters and found throughout the lung.
  • Stage 3 (3A & 3B): Cancer has spread to the lymph nodes; there may be more than one tumor in or near the lung.
  • Stage 4: Cancer has spread to the lymph nodes and other parts of the body.

Learn more about the stages of non-small cell lung cancer from the National Cancer Institute.

Small Cell Lung Cancer Stages

  • Limited: Cancer is in the lung where it began and may have spread between the lungs or to the lymph nodes above the collarbone.
  • Extensive: Cancer has spread to other places in the body.

Learn more about small cell lung cancer staging from the National Cancer Institute.

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