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Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team

Updated on

What is non-small cell lung cancer?

Non-small cell lung cancer is a type of cancer in the lungs or airways. The majority of lung cancers are non-small cell lung cancer. Lung cancer mostly affects people that smoke or are exposed to air pollution. Most people with non-small cell lung cancer are diagnosed between the ages of 50 and 70. Lung cancer typically develops slowly and symptoms often come on gradually. Typical symptoms include cough, chest pain and breathing difficulties. Treatment of lung cancer depends on the size of the cancer and whether the cancer has spread.


The main cause and risk factor for lung cancer is smoking, whether a person is a smoker themselves, or if they breathe in the cigarette smoke of other people (passive smoking). Asbestos exposure can also cause non-small cell lung cancer. There are other occupation fumes that cause lung cancer, but these are less common. These include radiotherapy, vinyl chloride, nickel, among others. Non-small cell lung cancer is rare in younger people, and most people are diagnosed between the ages of 50 and 70.


Typical symptoms of non-small cell lung cancer include cough or coughing up blood, chest pain, wheezing and breathing difficulties. Other general symptoms of cancer are weight loss, loss of appetite and fatigue. Symptoms tend to come on gradually.


Although a doctor may suspect lung cancer from the symptoms and physical examination, the best tools to diagnose lung cancer are a computed tomography scan (CT scan) and taking a sample of the cancer (a biopsy) to test for the specific type of cancer. Imaging helps to find out if the cancer has spread outside of the lungs.


Treatment of non-small lung cancer depends on the size of the cancer, the exact type of cancer and whether the cancer has spread. The combination of these factors decides the stage of the cancer. Depending on the stage, non-small cell lung cancer can be treated by radiotherapy, surgery and chemotherapy or a combination of therapies. The treating doctor can give the best advice as to treatment.

Other names for non-small cell lung cancer

  • Non-small cell lung cancer
  • Non-small lung cancer

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