Although we use the singular term ‘lung cancer’, it’s actually a very complex disease. Lung cancer is made up of many different subtypes. The two main subtypes of lung cancer are non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC), however due to its complexity, these can be further broken down into many more subtypes.1

Determining the specific subtype of lung cancer can provide important information as different subtypes may respond differently to certain treatments, such as chemotherapy, targeted therapies, or immunotherapy. Understanding the subtype therefore allows doctors to tailor a treatment plan to each individual's needs for the best possible outcome.2

The majority of people with NSCLC have specific characteristics - called biomarkers - on their tumour cells. It's essential to note that not all lung cancers have those identifiable biomarkers. However, the presence or absence of biomarkers can offer valuable insights to identify a specific cancer subtype.2,3

The presence or absence of certain biomarkers can help to determine if a person can be matched with a specific treatment:4-6

  • Targeted therapies work by targeting molecules that help cancer cells grow

  • Cancer immunotherapies work by helping the body’s immune system to fight cancer.

The absence of biomarkers still helps inform personalised treatment decisions, as in these cases other, more appropriate treatments are available.2

Biomarker testing can help guide treatment decisions for all people with non-small cell lung cancer.


  1. Information about Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer. Available at:Accessed July 2023.  

  2. Pakkala S. and Ramalingam S.S. Personalized therapy for lung cancer: striking a moving target. JCI insight. 2018;3(15). 

  3. National Cancer Institute. Biomarker Testing for Cancer Treatment. Available at:Accessed July 2023.  

  4. National Cancer Institute. Dictionary of Cancer Terms. Definition of Biomarker. Available at:Accessed July 2023.  

  5. National Cancer Institute. Dictionary of Cancer Terms. Definition of Immunotherapy. Available at:Accessed July 2023.

  6. National Cancer Institute. Dictionary of Cancer Terms. Definition of Targeted Therapy. Available at:Accessed July 2023.

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