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GB-PDO-01312 | Date of Preparation: November 2020

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

The information provided on this site is general education information and does not take the place of your healthcare professional’s advice. Please always follow your healthcare professional’s instructions and talk with him/her about any questions or problems you have regarding your health and treatment

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.


Passive smoking2

Other risk factors

Lowered immunity
(such as due to AIDS, HIV or drugs used to suppress the immune system)

Previous history of lung disease2

Living in a place with high air pollution2

Previous smoking related cancers

A family history of lung cancer2

Previous cancer treatment2

Exposure to radon gas
(a radioactive gas fond in soil and rocks)2

Exposure to certain chemicals
(such as asbestos)2

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

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 14

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

Stage 2 and 35,6

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 47

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. A treatment plan is chosen based on a number of factors:

  • Where the cancer is within the lung
  • General health
  • The stage of the 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 type of 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.9

Radiotherapy – Uses high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells. It is used to help shrink your tumour and help control symptoms.9

Chemotherapy – Uses anti-cancer drugs to destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy is used for advanced NSCLC to help shrink the tumour and relieve symptoms.9

Immunotherapies – Immunotherapies are a group of drugs that work with your body’s immune system, helping it to identify and destroy cancer cells.10

Targeted therapies – Work against cancer cells and can help stop them from growing and spreading. Targeted therapies only work in certain cancer patients.11

Download the Keycare Patient Diary App

Starting immunotherapy treatment can feel daunting, especially when you don’t know what to expect. You may get symptoms, or side effects, related to your treatment. Don’t worry – this is normal, but it’s important you make a note of them and tell your doctor so they can be managed as soon as possible. The Keycare Patient Diary has been developed to help you record your symptoms; recognise them, make a note of them, and then create a report that you can share with your medical team if you wish.

Additionally, it will provide more information about your treatment, answers to some frequently asked questions and links to other support available to you.

To find out more about the Keycare App

Download the patient user guide

Further information

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


Available at:
  1. Cancer Research UK. Types of lung cancer. Available at:
  2. Cancer Research UK. Lung cancer risks and causes. Available at:
  3. Cancer Research UK. Lung cancer symptoms. Available at:
  4. Cancer Research UK. Lung cancer stage 1. Available at:
  5. Cancer Research UK. Lung cancer stage 2. Available at:
  6. Cancer Research UK. Lung cancer stage 3. Available at:
  7. Cancer Research UK. Lung cancer stage 4. Available at:
  8. Cancer Research UK. Treatment for NSCLC. Available at:
  9. Cancer Research UK. Treatment for cancer. Available at:
  10. Cancer Research UK. Immunotherapy Available at:
  11. Cancer Research UK. What are targeted cancer drugs? Available at:

Supporting documentation

KEYTRUDA® (pembrolizumab)

Summary of Product Characteristics | Patient Information Leaflet

GB-PDO-01322 | Date of Preparation: November 2020