Large cell lung carcinoma is a common type of lung cancer that may spread rapidly. An early diagnosis can help improve treatment outcomes.

There are many forms of lung cancer, but each has its own characteristics. Large cell lung carcinoma (LCLC) is one form of non-small cell lung cancer that tends to grow more quickly and spread more aggressively than some other forms.

Large cell carcinoma of the lung is kind of a catch-all diagnosis for large cell lung cancers that can’t be classified into the other specific subgroups.

In this article, you’ll learn about the differences between small and large cell carcinomas in the lung, how LCLC is diagnosed and treated, and what to expect if you receive this diagnosis.

LCLC is a type of cancer that affects the lung. It can form anywhere in the lung but is more common on the outer edges.

Non-small cell carcinomas, like LCLC, are the most common form of lung cancer, making up 80 to 85 percent of all lung cancers. There are three major types of non-small cell carcinomas:

  • Adenocarcinoma. Adenocarcinoma is the most common type of lung cancer and is classified as a non-small cell lung cancer. It usually begins forming in the outer sections of the lung and is the type of lung cancer most often found in nonsmokers. Adenocarcinoma makes up about 40 percent of non-small lung cancer cases.
  • Large cell carcinoma. This type of lung cancer is named so because of its large, abnormal-looking cells. These cells can be found throughout the lungs. They also tend to grow more quickly and spread faster than other forms of non-small cell lung cancers. LCLC makes up 10 to 15 percent of all non-small cell lung cancers.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma. Squamous cell carcinoma is another large cell carcinoma and is sometimes referred to as epidermoid carcinoma. This type of non-small cell lung cancer usually begins in the middle structures of the lung, like the bronchi. Squamous cell carcinomas make up about one-quarter of all non-small cell lung cancers.

Outside of LCLC, there are a number of other forms of lung cancer, too. These include:

Despite their unique qualities, LCLC and other forms of non-small cell lung cancer share the same symptoms, which may include:

Many cancer symptoms are fairly vague — a cough, wheezing, or loss of appetite can appear with many conditions. This is why many cases of lung cancer aren’t detected in the early stages. This can delay diagnosis and mean that cancers aren’t detected until they’re already at a later stage.

Seek emergency care if you experience the following symptoms:

  • coughing up blood
  • severe shortness of breath or trouble breathing
  • chest pain
  • difficulty swallowing
  • face or neck swelling

These symptoms can lead to medical emergencies and affect your ability to breathe. They require immediate medical assessment and treatment.

Ideally, non-small cell lung cancers are diagnosed in the early stages, when there are more and better treatment options. However, since many symptoms are common to other conditions, a diagnosis isn’t made until the later stages in many cases of non-small cell lung cancer.

If you’re at high risk for developing lung cancer, such as if you smoke or work around airborne chemicals, annual screenings can help your doctor make a diagnosis early.

Annual screenings are done through imaging technologies like CT scans. They are recommended for those people at high risk between the ages of 55 and 80.

If you’re not in a high risk group, your doctor will ask you about your medical history, lifestyle, and family history. They will also perform a physical exam and may order a chest X-ray or CT scan if they suspect lung cancer.

A doctor may also choose to test fluids or cells from your lungs more directly by performing a biopsy. This can be done using a number of procedures, such as:

A biopsy can help your doctor examine the specific biomarkers of the cancer to target treatment and to better understand the stage.

There are a number of things that can cause lung cancer, but smoking is by far the greatest risk factor. Roughly 80 percent of lung cancer deaths are attributed to smoking, and even secondhand smoke may cause about 7,000 lung cancer deaths every year.

Other risk factors include:

  • radon exposure
  • exposure to irritants or pollutants in the workplace
  • living in an area with high levels of air pollution
  • family or genetic history
  • exposure to asbestos
  • a history of radiation therapy

Here are some of the main types of treatment for non-small cell lung cancers like LCLC.


Surgery may be one of the first treatment steps if cancer was detected early and hasn’t spread. The doctor may be able to remove the tumor or, if the cancer is more widespread, entire sections or lobes of the lung.

Radiation therapy

When tumors have grown too large to remove, or when trying to avoid removing large sections of lung, radiation therapy may be used to try and control cancer growth.

With this treatment, radiation waves are directed at the area to kill existing cancer cells and prevent new ones from forming.


Chemotherapy involves the use of a number of medications that kill fast-growing cells like cancer. It can affect other cells that grow fast, too, like skin and hair.

There are many types of chemotherapy, and your doctor may try more than one. Depending on which therapy is chosen, chemotherapy may be given as an implant, orally, or intravenously.

You may receive chemotherapy alone or with radiation therapy.

Targeted therapy

With some cancers, like those caused by genetic mutations, special medications that target cancer cells but spare healthy cells may be used. These medications typically don’t cure cancer but control growth and spread.


Immunotherapy is a growing area of medicine, where the immune system is programmed to fight a variety of conditions. There are currently five immunotherapy medications being used in the United States to treat lung cancer.

A lung cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming. Some cancers are slow growing and unlikely to spread. LCLC, however, tends to be more aggressive and can spread quickly.

Early diagnosis is key to a good prognosis. Overall, about a quarter of the people with some form of non-small cell lung cancer live for at least 5 years after their diagnosis — up from about 16 percent in the 1970s.

People with LCLC tend to be on the lower end of that survival spectrum, especially with certain types of this cancer. For example, large cell neuroendocrine carcinoma, a rare type of LCLC, has a median survival rate of about 6 months after diagnosis.

Many individual factors, as well as diagnosis and treatment, are all factors in your prognosis with LCLC. Survival rates are improving with advanced treatments.

Coping with a lung cancer diagnosis is another element of the disease. Make sure you’re comfortable with your doctor and your treatment plan, and explore all options available to you.

Your doctor may also be able to direct you to local resources or support groups to help you process everything that comes along with this condition.

A cancer diagnosis can change your life. Symptoms may develop without notice for some time, especially with lung cancer, making diagnosis more difficult.

Cancers that have spread or are diagnosed at later stages are more difficult to treat, and many cases of LCLC fall into this category.

Talk with a doctor to find out if you meet the criteria for annual screenings, especially if you are or were a heavy smoker. Survival rates for all forms of lung cancer are increasing due to new medications and treatments.