Large Cell Lung Cancers – Information, Treatment & Support

Non small cell lung cancer occurs when cancer cells form in lung tissue.

What are the different types?

There are three main types of non small cell lung cancer: adenocarcinoma - this is the name given to cancer that starts in the cells lining the alveoli (tiny air sacs in the lungs), squamous cell carcinoma - this is also known as epidermoid carcinoma and occurs when cancer starts in the squamous cells (thin, flat cells found in a number of places in the body) and large cell carcinoma - occurs when cancer grows in a few different types of large cells. Carcinoid tumors, salivary gland carcinomas, pleomorphic and unclassified carcinoma’s are also types of non small cell lung cancers which are less common.

What causes non small cell lung cancer?

Smoking tobacco is the major cause of non small cell lung cancer. Other causes include: exposure to second hand smoke, exposure to asbestos, tar, chromium, nickel, arsenic, soot or radon, living in any area where there is consistently high levels of air pollution and receiving radiotherapy to the chest or breast area.

After visiting a GP, a referral to a hospital for tests is the next step. These may include:

  • Physical exam
  • PET Scan
  • Chest x-ray of the bones and organs in the chest.
  • Bronchoscopy- where they will look inside the trachea and large airways in the lung for anything abnormal.
  • Fine-needle aspiration (FNA)- A biopsy where a small needle is used to extract fluid or tissue from the lung.
  • Sputum cytology-this is where a microscope is used to check the sputum (mucus) for cancer cells.
  • Thoracoscopy- a procedure to look at the organs inside the chest to see if there is anything abnormal present.
  • Thoracentesis- This is where the fluid between the lining of the chest and the lung is removed using a needle.
  • Sputum cytology- When a sample of sputum (mucus coughed up from the lungs) is checked for cancer cells by examination under a microscope.
  • Laboratory tests- Further tests and samples may be taken to help diagnose, monitor and treat the cancer.


Once someone has been diagnosed with small cell lung cancer, the doctors will work out what ‘stage’ of cancer they have. This helps them identify the best treatment. The stage of a cancer is a term used to describe its size, position and whether it has spread beyond where it started in the body.

There are four stages for non small cell lung cancer:

  • Stage 0- The cancer is only found in the inner lining of the lung and has not spread.
  • Stage I- The cancer is small and has not spread to lymph nodes.
  • Stage II- The cancer has spread to some of the lymph nodes surrounding the original tumour.
  • Stage III- The cancer has spread to lymph nodes far from the site of the original tumour and has also spread to nearby tissue.
  • Stage IV- The cancer has spread to other organs in the body.

Once someone has been diagnosed with small cell lung cancer the team of doctors and other staff at the hospital will plan the treatment.

This may include:

Surgery for non small cell lung cancer:

Surgery is often the first option for treatment if the cancer has not spread to nearby lymph nodes.

The surgery may involve:

  • The removal of one of the lobes of the lung (lobectomy).
  • The removal of a small part of the lung (wedge or segment removal).
  • The removal of the entire lung (pneumonectomy).

Chemotherapy for non small cell lung cancer:

Once the cancer has spread, chemotherapy is often used as the main form of treatment of non small cell lung cancer. Sometimes it is used before surgery or before radiotherapy to assist in making those treatments more of a success. To kill any remaining cancer cells chemotherapy can also be administered after surgery. For more information on chemotherapy, visit our chemotherapy page.

Radiotherapy for non small cell lung cancer:

Radiotherapy is also a treatment used for non small cell lung cancer. If surgery is not possible, radiotherapy is often given with chemotherapy.

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