What is NSCLC?

Non-small cell lung carcinoma is a type of lung cancer, also commonly referred to as non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). This is a dangerous disease that can cause breathing difficulties and ultimately affect your quality of life. If diagnosed late or left untreated, it can be life-threatening.

NSCLC occurs when healthy cells become abnormal and grow rapidly. One danger of this form of cancer is that there’s a high likelihood that the cancer cells will spread from the lungs to other organs and body parts.

There’s no single cause of NSCLC, although smoking puts you at a significantly higher risk. However, even nonsmokers can get this type of lung cancer. Other risk factors include exposure to air pollution and chemicals, as well as a family history of the disease.

Up to 90 percent of all lung carcinomas fall into the non-small cell category. NSCLC doesn’t spread as fast as small cell lung carcinomas (SCLC). For this reason, the prognosis and survival rate is better for NSCLC.

In its early stages, NSCLC usually doesn’t cause any symptoms. See your doctor promptly if you experience symptoms of lung cancer, including:

  • recurrent cough
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • coughing up blood
  • unintentional weight loss

There are three main subtypes of NSCLC:

  • adenocarcinoma: starts in the outer part of the lungs
  • squamous cell carcinoma: starts in the middle portion of the lungs
  • undifferentiated carcinoma: starts in any portion of the lungs and involves fast-growing cells

About 40 percent of all cases of NSCLC are adenocarcinoma. This subtype is more common in women than in men, and more common in younger individuals.

Survival rates for cancers like NSCLC are based on the five-year survival rate. The rate is calculated based on the percentage of people who survive five years or longer after diagnosis. Your doctor will look at statistics from patients at similar stages of lung cancer to make this type of prognosis.

Numerous factors can determine your five-year survival rate. One major factor is the stage of cancer in which you’re diagnosed. The American Cancer Society breaks down the estimated survival rates based on each stage of NSCLC cancer. They are:

  • 1A: 49 percent
  • 1B: 45 percent
  • 2A: 30 percent
  • 2B: 31 percent
  • 3A: 14 percent
  • 3B: 5 percent
  • 4: 1 percent

Keep in mind that these rates are designed as a guide and aren’t necessarily a definitive five-year cutoff. Because treatments have improved over time, the five-year survival rates are not truly reflective of current survival rates.

While there’s no current cure for this type of lung cancer, there are several treatment options, including:

  • surgery
  • chemotherapy
  • radiation
  • targeted drugs
  • immunotherapy

The purpose of treatment is to improve your quality of life and prevent the cancer from spreading, also called metastasis. Your chances for survival are best when this type of cancer is caught early.

Trust your instincts and see your doctor if your body doesn’t feel right. An appointment might just save your life.