What is Lung Cancer?

Reading time: 3 min

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death. In the coming years, a greater incidence is expected, not only in men but also in women, due to the increase of the consumption of tobacco. Thanks to the therapeutic advances of the last years, the approach to the disease has changed and the objective is to chronify it.

The body’s cells have self-control mechanisms that ensure the organs grow in a well structured manner. When these cells experience uncontrolled growth they form tumours. When these cells not only grow but also invade other tissues or organs through the blood stream (metastasis), then this is defined as cancer.

The majority of lung cancers begin with disorderly growth of the cells covering the bronchi in the lungs.

How many people does it affect?

Lung cancer has the highest global mortality rate of all tumours. The Spanish Society of Medical Oncology (SEOM), in their 2012 annual report, indicates that in Spain lung cancer is the second most common cancer in men and the fourth in women. However, lung cancer causes the highest number of deaths due to cancer.

The incidence in Spain is expected to increase over the next 20 years, not only in men but also in women, due to an increased number of people smoking. On average, lung cancer is diagnosed at the age of 65.


Types of lung cancer

Lung cancer is divided into two major types depending on the shape of the cells causing the disease. Classification of tumour type is an essential step before selecting treatment.

1. Small cell lung cancer (or microcytic cancer). Represents around 15–20% of all lung cancers. It is characterised by its aggressive nature, rapid growth, and its tendency to affect the central ganglia and to spread to the brain.

2. Non-small cell lung cancer. This is the most common type of lung cancer (80%).

It is further categorised into three subtypes:

  • Adenocarcinoma. The most common subtype of lung cancer. It usually affects the more peripheral areas of the lung and of all subtypes it has the greatest tendency to spread to other organs (metastasis). Adenocarcinoma is characteristically seen in smokers; nevertheless, the rate of incidence in non-smokers is currently on the increase.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma (or epidermoid carcinoma). The most frequently occurring subtype of lung cancer, along with adenocarcinoma. It tends to grow in a central location and occurs exclusively in smokers.
  • Large cell carcinoma. Is a less common subtype characterised by the large size of the cells involved. It tends to be the most aggressive of all lung cancers.

Lung Cancer explained in first person

Appointment of Noemí Reguart, Oncologist
Lung cancer can be cured with surgical treatment in its earliest stages and it can be transformed into a chronic disease with new drugs that directly attack tumor cells.
Appointment of Pilar, Patient
You must trust in medical science. Research has changed a lot and it is constantly changing cancer treatment. There are effective treatments. It is not the end of the world because you are diagnosed with cancer, not by a long way.

What is Cancer?

General information about Cancer

Read more

Substantiated information by:

David Sánchez Lorente
Laureano Molins López-Rodó
Mari Carmen Rodríguez Mues
Noemí Reguart Aransay
Nuria Viñolas Segarra
Ramón Marrades Sicart

Published: 20 February 2018
Updated: 20 February 2018

The donations that can be done through this webpage are exclusively for the benefit of Hospital Clínic of Barcelona through Fundació Clínic per a la Recerca Biomèdica and not for BBVA Foundation, entity that collaborates with the project of PortalClínic.


Receive the latest updates related to this content.

Thank you for subscribing!

If this is the first time you subscribe you will receive a confirmation email, check your inbox

An error occurred and we were unable to send your data, please try again later.