Health Alert:

Coronavirus Information: Vaccinations | Testing | Safety Policies & Visitor Guidelines | Appointments & Scheduling | FAQs

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

A non-small cell lung cancer diagnosis is never easy. But you don't have to face it alone. Our team of lung cancer experts has decades of experience helping people navigate this diagnosis. Through treatments tailored to your DNA and nurse navigators that help you overcome challenges, we make sure every moment counts.

What Is Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer?

Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the most common type of lung cancer. It is usually less aggressive than small cell lung cancer. Read about non-small cell lung cancer symptoms.

There are three main subtypes, determined by the size, shape and chemical make-up of the cancer cells:


Adenocarcinoma accounts for about 40 percent of lung cancers. It is usually found in the outer part of the lung.

While adenocarcinoma can occur in smokers or former smokers, it is the most common lung cancer in non-smokers. It is more common in women and more likely to occur in younger people than other lung cancer types.

Large-Cell (Undifferentiated) Carcinoma

About 10 to 15 percent of lung cancers are large-cell carcinomas. They can start in any part of the lung. Large-cell carcinomas tend to grow and spread quickly, making them more difficult to treat.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

About 25 to 30 percent of lung cancers are squamous cell carcinomas. Their development is linked to smoking. This type of lung cancer is often found in the middle of the lungs, near a bronchus (airway).

Why Choose Penn Medicine's Abramson Cancer Center for Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Care

Our lung cancer team includes nurse navigators with special expertise in non-small cell lung cancer. This training helps them anticipate your needs, getting you the right care and support fast. We also provide:

  • Expert care close to home: Our intake system makes sure you receive care from lung cancer experts located close to you. Using your zip code, we send you to local Abramson Cancer Center locations for routine care, including chemotherapy, radiation and postoperative appointments.
  • Experience: As a high-volume cancer center, we see more lung cancer patients than any other hospital in the Delaware Valley. We use this experience to provide you with safe, effective care. Research shows that treatment at high-volume centers leads to better outcomes for lung cancer patients.
  • Coordinated care: Our lung cancer specialists have regular formal and informal meetings about your care. These meetings mean that the entire team weighs in on treatment decisions. They can also quickly adjust your treatment plan if there's an issue or you would benefit from a different treatment.
  • Personalized treatments: Our pulmonary pathologists perform genetic tests on tumors. These tests identify changes in tumor DNA (molecular targets) that make it grow uncontrollably. If you have a molecular target, we can match the right targeted molecular therapy to the specific cancer.

Bill and Ralph's Lung Cancer Journey

Married in 2013, Florida residents Bill Cain and Ralph Madden shared an active life together. But when routine screenings revealed both had lung cancer, serendipity brought them 1,000 miles away to the Abramson Cancer Center. "From top to bottom, our experience at Penn Medicine was wonderful — and worth every mile in the air and on the road." Read Bill and Ralph's lung cancer story.

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Treatment

We offer the full range of standard treatments for non-small cell lung cancer, along with newer treatments through clinical trials. Some are administered alone or in combination with other therapies. Treatment may include:

  • Watchful waiting: Watchful waiting, or expectant management, means doctors closely watch your condition. They do not give any treatment until symptoms appear or change. This approach is taken in certain rare cases of non-small cell lung cancer.
  • Targeted therapy: Targeted therapy uses powerful drugs to shrink and prevent the growth of cancer cells. These drugs are matched to each tumor after genetic tests. Our experts developed a simple blood test, called liquid biopsy, that can collect this information. Targeted therapies for lung cancer are usually taken in pill form.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells by killing them or stopping them from dividing. Learn more about chemotherapy for lung cancer.
  • Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy, also known as biotherapy or biologic immunotherapy, uses your own immune system to fight cancer. Immunotherapy drugs boost, direct or restore the body's natural defenses against cancer. Read about immunotherapy for lung cancer.
  • Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy destroys cancer cells with intense energy. Our treatment options include proton therapy (a precise form of radiation) and stereotactic radiotherapy. Our doctors were among the first to bring stereotactic radiotherapy to the tri-state area. Learn more about radiation treatment for lung cancer.
  • Surgery: We have developed new surgical procedures to treat previously inoperable lung cancers. Our surgeons help you evaluate the risks and benefits of all our options, including advanced lung-sparing and minimally invasive procedures. Read more about lung cancer surgery.

Clinical Trials

We are studying new combinations of treatments in clinical trials. Clinical trials help improve current treatments and develop new ones. We have clinical trials available for almost every patient who wants to participate.

Get more information about our lung cancer clinical trials.