Revolution in lung cancer: new challenges for the surgical pathologist

Arch Pathol Lab Med. 2011 Jan;135(1):110-6. doi: 10.5858/2010-0567-RA.1.


Context: Traditionally, lung cancer has been viewed as an aggressive, relentlessly progressive disease with few treatment options and poor survival. The traditional role of the pathologist has been primarily to differentiate small cell carcinoma from non-small cell carcinoma on biopsy and cytology specimens and to stage non-small cell carcinomas that underwent resection. In recent years, our concepts of lung cancer have undergone a revolution, including (1) the advent of successful, new, molecular-targeted therapies for lung cancer, many of which are associated with specific histologic cell types and subtypes; (2) new observations on the natural history of lung cancer derived from ongoing high-resolution computed tomography screening studies and recent histologic findings; and (3) proposals to revise the classification of lung cancers, particularly adenocarcinomas, in part because of the first 2 developments.

Objective: To summarize the important, new developments in lung cancer, emphasizing the role of the surgical pathologist in personalized care for patients with lung cancer.

Data sources: Information about the new developments in lung cancer was obtained from the peer-review medical literature and the authors' experiences.

Conclusions: For decades, we have perceived lung cancer as a relentlessly aggressive and mostly incurable disease for which the surgical pathologist had a limited role. Today, surgical pathologists have an important and expanding role in the diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer, and it is essential to keep informed of new advances.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma / classification
  • Adenocarcinoma / diagnosis
  • Adenocarcinoma / pathology
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / classification
  • Lung Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Lung Neoplasms / pathology
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy
  • Pathology, Surgical*
  • Precision Medicine*
  • Professional Role*


  • Biomarkers, Tumor