Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is the most common cancer and the leading cause of cancer death worldwide. The main types of lung cancer are non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC), which grow differently and are treated differently.

18 June, 2021

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Most lung cancers do not cause any symptoms until they have spread. Therefore, they are often diagnosed at a late stage. If the cancer has already spread outside the lungs, the prognosis for patients is very poor.

But because of new effective treatments, this is changing.  Over the past decades, significant advancements have been made in the treatment of lung cancer. Research has led to more survivors and more hope to those still facing the disease.


In Switzerland, around 4’500 people are diagnosed with lung cancer annually, around 3’200 die of it every year. Almost all new patients are over 50 years of age at diagnosis. Deaths caused by lung cancer represent about 19% of all cancer deaths.


Worldwide, about 2.2 million people were diagnosed with lung cancer in 2020, about 1.8 million people died of it. This number represents about 18% of all deaths due to cancer.

Non-small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC) and Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC)

About 85% of lung cancers are NSCLC. This cancer grows more slowly than small cell lung cancer (SCLC). Nevertheless, by the time about 40% of people are diagnosed, the cancer has spread to other parts of the body outside of the chest. The main subtypes of NSCLC are adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and large cell carcinoma.

About 15% of lung cancers are SCLC. It is very aggressive and spreads quickly. By the time that most people are diagnosed, the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

Types and Staging of Lung Cancer

Staging lung cancer is based on whether the cancer is local or has spread from the lungs to the lymph nodes or other organs.

Stages of non-small Cell Lung Cancer


Disease progression

Stage I
The tumor is 3 cm or less across, affects the main branches of the bronchi and has not spread beyond the lungs.

5-year survival rate

Stage II
The tumor is 5 cm or less across and has spread to nearby lymph nodes. Alternatively, there may be more than one separate tumor module present.

5-year survival rate

Stage III
The tumor is 5 to 7 cm and has spread to the lymph nodes. It may also have spread to surrounding areas. Two or more separate tumors are present in different lobes of the lung.

5-year survival rate

Stage IV
The tumor in the lung can be any size and has spread to distant organs within the body.

This is the most advanced stage of lung cancer.

5-year survival rate

Stages of Small Cell Lung Cancer

  • Limited stage: The tumor is only on one side of the chest and only parts of the lung and the neighboring lymph nodes are affected.
  • Extensive stage: The tumor has spread to both lungs, to other regions of the chest or to other parts of the body.


Most cases of lung cancer are not found until they have reached an advanced stage. This is in part because signs and symptoms of lung cancer typically only occur when the disease has spread to other parts of the body.

The most common symptoms include:

  • Ongoing or worsening cough
  • Coughing up blood
  • Chest pain
  • Hoarseness
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue

Risk factors

While smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer by far, others include:

  • exposure to secondhand smoke
  • radon
  • some workplace substances (i.e., asbestos, arsenic)
  • family history.


The most important way to prevent lung cancer is to avoid tobacco smoke.

People who smoke can reduce their risk by stopping smoking, but their risk of lung cancer will still be higher than people who never smoked.

CH-NON-00594, 06/2021