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Lung cancer begins when cancer cells develop in lung tissues. It is the primary cause of cancer-related deaths in men and women in the U.S. The two main types of lung cancer — non-small cell and small cell — are very different and it’s important to know what type you have. Non-small cell represents about 85 percent of all lung cancer cases.

Wilmot Cancer Institute is the only center in the Finger Lakes region with doctors who specialize in lung cancer. Wilmot offers the most advanced treatments and technology, such as gene analysis of lung tumors, clinical trials testing the newest therapies, minimally invasive robotic surgery, video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS), endobronchial ultrasound (EBUS), navigational bronchoscopy and stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT).

Lung cancer types

  • Non-small cell lung cancer includes adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and large-cell carcinoma, among others.
  • Small-cell lung cancer is also called oat cell cancer. Fewer than 15 percent of lung cancers fall into this category.
  • Lung carcinoid tumors, which are rare. They tend to grow slowly.

Lung cancer facts

More than 220,000 cases of lung cancer are diagnosed annually. National incidence and death rates over the years have closely mirrored patterns of tobacco use, with a slow decline starting in the early 2000s. 

Causes and risk factors

The lifetime risk for men to develop any type of lung cancer is one in 13. For women, the risk is about one in 16. Age is a strong risk factor, with the majority of cases occurring in people 65 or older.

Cigarette smoking, cigar smoking, and pipe smoking greatly increases the risk of developing lung cancer. Smoking low-tar or low-nicotine cigarettes is just as risky as regular cigarettes, and menthol cigarettes may increase the risk of cancer even more. E-cigarettes are also a major public health concern. Research at the University of Rochester and elsewhere has raised many questions about the safety and effectiveness of e-cigarettes as smoking cessation tools.

Other possible causes of lung cancer include exposure to secondhand smoke, radon, air pollution, and workplace toxins such as arsenic, asbestos, and diesel exhaust. Having radiation therapy to the chest for other cancers also increases the risk of lung cancer, as does a personal or family history of the disease and having the HIV infection.

Lung cancer in people who've never smoked tends to occur at younger ages and may involve gene changes in tumors that are different from lung cancer in smokers. Researchers are investigating those gene changes and how they relate to non-smoker lung cancer.


The best way to prevent this disease is to never smoke or quit smoking. The risk of lung cancer decreases 30 percent to 50 percent after a person has quit for 10 years. The National Cancer Institute supports clinical trials to prevent lung cancer, including trials to help people quit smoking.

Lowering your exposure to workplace toxins and radon gasses can also prevent lung cancer. It is unclear whether diet and exercise directly prevents lung cancer, although eating healthy and being physically active has shown to be protective against other cancers.