Non-Small-Cell Lung Cancer: A Guide for Patients

ESMO Guides for Patients are designed to assist patients, their relatives and caregivers to better understand the nature of different types of cancer and evaluate the best available treatment choices.

What is lung cancer?

Lung cancers typically start in the cells that line the bronchi and parts of the lung such as the bronchioles or alveoli. There are two main types of primary lung cancer:

  • Small-cell lung cancer (SCLC): This type gets its name from the small size of the cells that it is composed of when viewed under a microscope.
  • Non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC): This is the more common type of lung cancer, and accounts for 80-90% of all lung cancers.
    • This guide will focus exclusively on NSCLC.

What subtypes of NSCLC are there?

The three main histological subtypes of NSCLC are:

  • Adenocarcinoma: About 40% of all lung cancers are adenocarcinomas. These tumours start in mucus-producing cells that line the airways.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC): About 25-30% of all lung cancers are SCC. This type of cancer develops in cells that line the airways and is usually caused by smoking.
  • Large cell (undifferentiated) carcinoma: This type makes up around 10-15% of all lung cancers. It gets its name from the way that the cancer cells look when they are examined under a microscope.

Beyond a definition of NSCLC, in this guide for patients you will find answers to questions such as:

  • What are the symptoms of lung cancer?
  • How common is NSCLC?
  • What causes NSCLC?
  • How is NSCLC diagnosed?
  • How will my treatment be determined?
  • What are the treatment options for NSCLC?
  • Clinical trials
  • Supplementary interventions
  • What are the possible side effects of the treatments?
  • What happens after my treatment has finished?
  • Support groups

This guide has been prepared to help you, your friends, family and caregivers better understand NSCLC and its treatments. The medical information described in this document is based on ESMO clinical practice guidelines for the management of early-stage, locally-advanced or metastatic NSCLC. We recommend that you ask your doctor about the tests and types of treatments available in your country for your type and stage of NSCLC.

Published in 2019