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What is non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)?

NSCLC is the most common type of lung cancer. It is actually a group of three different types of lung cancer that behave in a similar way. The three types of NSCLC are; Adenocarcinoma, Squamous cell cancer and Large cell cancer.1

How does NSCLC develop?

NSCLC develops due to changes in the cell lining of the lungs and airways.

What causes NSCLC?

The most common cause of lung cancer is smoking, but there are a range of other causes. The chances of developing lung cancer increases the longer a person smokes. Passive smoking (breathing in other people’s smoke) can also cause lung cancer.

Symptoms of NSCLC3

Common symptoms can include:

  • Having a cough that doesn’t go away
  • A change in a cough you have had for a long time
  • Being short of breath or breathless
  • Coughing up phlegm with blood in it
  • A sore or aching chest or shoulder
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tiredness (fatigue)
  • Losing weight
  • Persistent chest infections

Stages of NSCLC

Like all cancers, NSCLC can be divided into stages. Each stage depends on how big the cancer is and how far the cancer had spread. Advanced NSCLC is a stage of the disease and can be either:

  • Locally advanced lung cancer- meaning it has spread beyond the lung into surrounding tissues or nearby lymph nodes
  • Metastatic lung cancer- meaning the cancer has spread to other organs or lymph nodes far away in the body

Stage 1

The cancer is small and is just in one area of the lung (localised).


Stage 2 and 3

The cancer is larger and may have spread to the surrounding tissues and there may be cancer cells in the lymph nodes (locally advanced).


Stage 4

The cancer has spread to another part of the body (secondary or metastatic lung cancer).

Treating advanced non-small cell lung cancer

There are currently several different methods for treating advanced NSCLC. The treatments may be chosen to help with removing a tumour, or controlling symptoms, or a mixture of both. Your treatment plan is chosen based on a number of factors:

  • Where the cancer is within the lung
  • Your general health
  • The stage of your cancer
  • Results of blood tests and scans

The list of advanced NSCLC treatments below is not exhaustive and is not in any order. If you have any questions about any of these treatment options, please contact your Healthcare team.

Surgery - The surgery you have depends on the stage of cancer you have and your general health, removing either a section, a lobe or one of the lungs.

Radiotherapy - Uses high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells. It is used to help shrink your tumour and help control symptoms.

Chemotherapy - Uses anti-cancer drugs to destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy is used for advanced NSCLC to help shrink the tumour and relieve symptoms.

Immunotherapies - Immunotherapies are a group of drugs that work with your body’s immune system, helping it to identify and destroy cancer cells.

Targeted therapies - Work against cancer cells and can help stop them from growing and spreading. Targeted therapies only work in certain cancer patients.

Further reading

NSCLC is a complex condition and there is a lot more to read about. You can find more information at the following websites:


Cancer Research UK

Macmillan Cancer

Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation

  1. Cancer Research UK. Types of lung cancer. [Last accessed March 2019].
  2. Cancer Research UK. Lung cancer risks and causes. [Last accessed March 2019].
  3. Cancer Research UK. Lung cancer symptoms. [Last accessed March 2019].
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